British Columbia (BC) Housing has committed to a third-party review of the Port Alberni Shelter Society. Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions announced the news late Friday night, Oct. 30, in a press release.
The news came as a protest outside the shelter hit its seventh day. Organizer Graham Hughes was arrested Friday morning and later released, and those with tents set up on the lawn at Our Home on Eighth shelter were told by Port Alberni RCMP to remove them.
Minions and Coun. Deb Haggard visited the protest site earlier in the week and said an investigation was needed to look into allegations Hughes and other protesters have made against the management of the shelter. Many of the allegations are unproven and the AV News by law cannot share them.
“We believe strongly as a local government that the services offered in our community by the Port Alberni Shelter Society and BC Housing are absolutely vital,” Minions said. “Confidence in these services and service providers is essential and we recognize that the concerns being expressed have diminished that confidence in a significant way.”
Minions applauded BC Housing’s decision and said the city will support the review process “to (ensure) that all voices in our community have the opportunity to be heard, especially those of our vulnerable populations.”
Minions called for protesters to take down their tent city now that BC Housing has agreed to an independent review “in order to allow due process to be undertaken.” She said BC Housing has already started the process to bring a consultant in to complete the review.
Port Alberni Shelter Society executive director Wes Hewitt said in a separate statement he welcomes any formal inquiry through its governing agencies.
“The Port Alberni Shelter Society has contractual agreements with organizations including BC Housing and the Vancouver Island Health Authority,” Hewitt said. “As such, we cannot and will not comment publicly on confidential issues.”
He said there are formal “and responsive” channels through BC Housing and Island Health where members of the public may express their concerns.
Hewitt said he was aware of the public and social media posts about the shelter society and its operations. “The tone and content of this conversation has been disheartening to hear as it does not accurately reflect the way in which the Port Alberni Shelter Society (PASS) conducts its operations,” Hewitt said.
“We care about all who face challenges in homelessness, mental health and substance use—this is why we do what we do. There is much work still to be done in our community.”
The shelter society has operated for more than 40 years. It oversees a multi-service shelter (Our Home on Eighth), low barrier housing and a sobering centre (Phoenix House), overdose prevention site and the Shelter Farm, a vegetable farm.
“We take all concerns through appropriate channels seriously and will respond as appropriate.”
The shelter society is moving forward with development of a “therapeutic recovery community” for women in the Alberni Valley and to provide an affordable housing option at its former site, also on Eighth Avenue, for seniors.