Health-care worker Lisa George owns the former Returning the Favour care home on Redford Street and says it would be available for emergency housing while she waits for a contract to kick in for the building’s original use. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Health-care worker Lisa George owns the former Returning the Favour care home on Redford Street and says it would be available for emergency housing while she waits for a contract to kick in for the building’s original use. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Bridging the gap of homelessness in Port Alberni

Idea would get people off streets for winter, give time for a better solution

Port Alberni health-care worker Lisa George is determined to find emergency housing for the city’s homeless, even if she has to provide the space herself.

George has been working every day with the city’s homeless people, first at the tent city that was in front of the Our Home on Eighth shelter for a few weeks, and now wherever she and a team of volunteers happen to find people.

George also operates Phoenix 4 Enterprises, a business that assists people in recovery. A year ago she purchased the former Redford House (previously known as Returning the Favour) care home on Redford Street at Eighth Avenue so she can expand her business, which is running at 90 percent capacity.

She is asking to use the building during the winter as emergency housing to get the city’s hard-to-house people off the streets.

RELATED: Alberni care home’s talks with VIHA stall

The building, which features 12 bedrooms as well as common areas and full bathrooms, is empty because George has had it renovated while she waited for funding approval and licensing.

“It was in pretty rough shape. It sat empty. It’s ready to go for my service.”

Renovations happened in the spring, when contractors and city hall were affected along with other businesses by COVID-19 closures.

“All of those legalities have taken a long time with COVID coming. The restart of everything has taken a long time.”

She is ready for occupancy, but her expansion grants won’t kick in until April 1, 2021. “It could sit vacant until April 1. I thought if it’s sitting vacant, why can we not multi-purpose or think outside the box and get these folks immediately housed for the interim?

“It runs the same span as the cold weather beds—let’s get them out of the weather, and it buys the other agencies and city and government time—to have that three or four months to come up with a better solution.”

There is an immediate need to house people who have been living on the streets, she said, but they are also expecting more vulnerable people to be needing homes as the City of Port Alberni deals with a building under a remediation order. Randy Brown, who owns Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue and a trailer encampment he is slowly building in his adjacent parking lot has been given until late December to fix a long list of items and remove the trailers. He has not said how many people are living in the trailers.

In October when the Port Pub was under a remediation order, about 20 people who weren’t on a rental list were evicted, according to a city official.

“We’ve got a long list that the volunteers look in on and it fluctuates between 18 and 25., which is why 24 beds kind of made sense,” George said. “Some have been housed, some have since moved on to treatment. But it seems like that 18 number is immediate need. We know that need is going to increase even more so.”

George said she is still waiting to hear back from Island Health and the city on her proposal to bring the homeless inside.

She submitted her proposal to Island Health for an operating grant in mid-November. While BC Housing takes care of physical housing—whether providing or renovating it—there are no grants available for service delivery, George discovered.

“Everything’s coming down to funding. Who’s responsible, who’s got the funds, who’s going to cover what and we go around and around and around. We’re losing people daily while we wait,” she said.

“It is a crisis; they’re out there and the weather’s not getting any better.”



susie.quinn@albernivalleynews.com

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Housing and HomelessnessPort Alberni

 

The former Returning the Favour care home on Redford Street at Eighth Avenue, which Lisa George owns, would be available as emergency housing for people living on the streets under George’s proposal to Island Health. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

The former Returning the Favour care home on Redford Street at Eighth Avenue, which Lisa George owns, would be available as emergency housing for people living on the streets under George’s proposal to Island Health. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)