The province’s housing authority has terminated the Port Alberni Shelter Society’s contract to operate the city’s only shelter.
Staff, residents and City of Port Alberni officials were all made aware of BC Housing’s decision late last week.
In a statement provided to the Alberni Valley News, a BC Housing spokesperson said the provincial body has notified Port Alberni Shelter Society (PASS) that it is seeking a new operator for the supportive housing and shelter located at 3939 Eighth Avenue—also known as Our House on Eighth.
“BC Housing has a duty to shelter guests and supportive housing residents, as well as the community of Port Alberni to ensure shelters and supportive housing are appropriately operated and that residents and staff are safe and supported…Over the next three months, we will be working with front line staff at PASS and partners to ensure that this transition is seamless for residents and clients and that shelter services continue.”
Representatives from BC Housing were at the shelter on Friday to meet with residents and staff and discuss next steps.
The decision came as a shock to the PASS board, which received notice on Dec. 30, 2022 that BC Housing planned on terminating their contract over Our Home on Eighth. The society received three months’ notice, meaning its contract will end on March 31, 2023.
“We doubt that we have any legal basis to challenge this, but we do consider it to be unprofessional and not in good faith on the part of BC Housing,” PASS board chair Myron Jespersen stated in a letter to shelter staff. He added that the board intends to appeal the decision “through any channels available” while also advocating for staff to continue employment “in the event a new operator is selected.
“…We have a long history of working together with many of you (staff) and we have developed a culture of service and caring that we should be proud of,” Jespersen added. “We are concerned that a new operator may not maintain that culture or level of service and we do not know of any reason to make a change at this time.”
Jespersen said in a statement released to media on Jan. 9 that BC Housing is violating its own mandate of maintaining a safe, secure and respectful environment for clients and residents. “We feel that this decision…and the manner in which they have announced this change, does not consider the best interests of our clients, residents and staff,” he said.
“PASS has never witnessed or experienced such an action in all their years of service in the community and is working hard to develop a responsible plan of transition that minimizes disruption of the many important services they provide in the community.”
The board has reached out to government officials “to understand the rationale and to appeal the decision of BC Housing.”
Shelter operators came under public scrutiny in the fall of 2020 after protesters put up a tent city in front of the Eighth Avenue facility, complaining about conditions in the shelter. The protest lasted for several weeks. A third-party consultant was hired to look into the allegations and in March 2021 released its report with 10 recommendations for changes to improve service, safety and communication.
In a letter to residents dated January 2023, BC Housing said residents in supported housing at the shelter won’t have to move, and that the shelter will remain open. The organization intends to choose a new operator in early 2023 “through a fair and open process.”
City officials received a call on Jan. 4 from BC Housing informing them about the change in contract “and that they didn’t see an interruption of service. That was our primary concern,” city Chief Administrative Officer Tim Pley said.
“While housing is a provincial, not a city responsibility, the city is very active in housing issues,” he said.
The city has a multi-pronged agreement with BC Housing, covering Walyaqil Tiny Home Village on Fourth Avenue, Sage Haven Society’s second-stage transitional housing project and future development of a permanent low barrier supportive housing building.
“In this particular instance the city is not involved in the relationship between PASS and BC Housing,” Pley said. “We’re not actively involved in this but we want to make sure people continue to be housed.”