The City of Port Alberni has seen improvement when it comes to the issue of housing, but there is still more to be done, according to the city’s homelessness committee.
Patty Edwards and Terry Deakin were in Port Alberni city council chambers on Monday, April 8 to provide an update on the Alberni Valley Community Stakeholders Initiative to End Homelessness Committee (AVCSI) and its accomplishments.
The AVCSI is a sub-committee of the Alberni Valley Social Planning Council that was formed in 2007 to bring together different agencies and individuals developing safe, affordable and supportive housing in the community. Deakin was hired as the AVCSI coordinator in 2016 but, as she explained on Monday, the funding has run out for her coordinator position.
She recognized a number of new housing projects, including the Rainbow Gardens seniors facility expansion, the second-stage housing that will be operated by ACAWS, ongoing work by the Low Energy Housing Society and the Port Alberni Shelter Society’s new homeless shelter and supportive housing, which opened last month. But Deakin also admitted that there is still more to be done.
“There are people still living on the streets…there are still people with nowhere to go,” she said.
Part of the problem is that homelessness in Port Alberni is growing, according to the most recent Homeless Count, which Deakin attributed partly to housing affordability.
“People are having to move out of their homes,” she said “We’re all one step away from homelessness, because if anything tragic happens in our lives and we can’t afford to keep the homes we have, where do we go?”
Deakin suggested that the city can work with an association already in place to develop a Housing First project.
“We still don’t have a true Housing First project happening in Port Alberni and I think that we need to have one,” she said.
Housing First is an approach to ending homelessness that gives clients direct access to permanent housing before emergency shelter placement or transitional housing. With a Housing First strategy, there are no requirements for housing readiness—no compliance to medication, or sobriety.
Councillor Dan Washington asked if there are people in the Alberni Valley who prefer to remain homeless, and Deakin replied that some people choose to live on the street or in the bush because they can’t live anywhere else.
“They want to be out there because they don’t have any rules to follow out there,” she said. “I think they really do want a home.”
A Housing First strategy, she explained, gives people a place that they can go even if they are struggling with addiction or have limited life skills. “What matters is that we give them a home, we give them a roof over their head and then we start putting in the supports,” she said. “People can’t work on those things if they’re out in the bush.”
Mayor Sharie Minions also suggested that a housing needs assessment would benefit the community by providing some data about Port Alberni’s particular housing needs. Port Alberni, she explained, has a “huge stock” of single family homes, but fewer townhouses, apartments and senior care facilities. “We can use that to promote specific types of developments…and work forward in a way that is based on the data that’s out there,” she said.
AVCSI has run into difficulties when it comes to collaboration amongst service providers. Deakin explained that a number of agencies with different mandates and directives are competing for the same pot of funding.
She recommended a Regional Housing Coalition, which can be accomplished through a referendum or alternative approval process. A similar coalition has been adopted by Greater Victoria, developing a partnership of local service providers, non-profit organizations, businesses and all levels of government.
If this doesn’t work, said Deakin, the committee recommends formation of a social planning commission that makes housing one of its priorities.