Port Alberni’s mayor and council are calling for an investigation of the Port Alberni Shelter after a former B.C. election candidate set up a protest in front of the shelter.
Graham Hughes,who ran unsuccessfully as an independent candidate in the recent B.C. provincial election, has been sitting in a growing tent city in front of the shelter since Oct. 23, protesting the way the shelter society is dealing with homelessness in Port Alberni.
The Port Alberni Shelter Society operates Our Home on Eighth—a multi-service shelter—along with an overdose prevention site, low-barrier housing unit called Phoenix House, a sobering centre and the Shelter Farm.
Mayor Sharie Minions and city councillor Deb Haggard visited the shelter protest Wednesday afternoon (Oct. 28), talking to Hughes and other supporters gathered around a propane firepit under an open-sided tent.
“Our council wants to see the issues investigated and…wants to see this come to a peaceful resolution as soon as possible,” Minions said. She has known Hughes since childhood “and I just wanted the opportunity to come here, hear him out and talk about possible ways the city can help make sure there is a fair investigation done.”
The city has no authority over the Port Alberni Shelter Society, she said. Island Health and BC Housing are both overseers of the shelter and its services. “We are not a regulator in any way, we don’t have any oversight over the board, we don’t have any control over what BC Housing does. But we feel we have a responsibility to ensure that there is trust in the systems and the services that are being provided to our community members.”
Minions said she would be interested in sitting on the shelter society’s board of directors, but she would have to be elected to the board. Since the society apparently held its AGM last week any new elections would have to be by special meeting. There is no city council liaison position on the shelter board, nor does the city have any authority to take a seat on the board.
“Myself and (Tseshaht First Nation Chief Councillor) Cynthia Dick have both expressed interest in sitting on their board.”
Minions had a brief meeting with a BC Housing representative on Oct. 26 to discuss the concerns Hughes has raised. She said she originally reached out before the sit-in. “I am working to schedule another (meeting) in the near future to go over what I’m hearing and bring forward the concerns community members are bringing to us,” Minions said.
Her meeting was in addition to another one members of Port Alberni city council had already arranged with the shelter society to discuss low barrier housing and a concept the shelter wanted to propose. That meeting was cancelled for personal reasons, but will be rescheduled, she said.
“I think working with BC Housing is more important on this than working directly with the shelter society or with shelter society staff,” Minions said. “We don’t know if there is legitimacy to the allegations that are being made or not. Our position is very much that we think a fair investigation should be done into any concerns coming forward from any vulnerable members of our community.”