Port Alberni needs low-barrier housing to help combat homelessness in the community, says the Alberni Valley Community Stakeholders Initiative to End Homelessness (AVCSI).
The challenge, says stakeholders initiative chairperson Patty Edwards, is finding trained staff to run such a facility.
BC Housing describes low-barrier housing, or minimum-barrier shelter, as an emergency shelter that has few requirements for entry.
Edwards said their committee adopted the philosophy of “housing first” in regards to low-barrier housing.
“Residents are not required to be sober to occupy a room in a low-barrier home….you just give them the house first and then work on the issue,” Edwards said. “Basically it’s supplying housing units and then support.”
With low-barrier housing, residents would get their own unit as opposed to a shelter room that are often shared spaces.
Edwards said after speaking with mental health workers in the community and members of the Port Alberni RCMP, it was determined that this type of housing is needed in the Valley. She said the folks who cycle through housing facilities quickly are often the ones in need of a low-barrier residence.
“Where do you put people when they’ve been taken out of their current place, maybe because of mental health and addiction issues or they can’t get along with other residents in a building or something,” Edwards said. “We need to identify where we’re going to have the low-barrier housing and who’s going to facilitate it.”
A challenge, Edwards said, is administering properly trained staff for this type of housing.
“It’s estimated that for every three to five units you have, you need a full-time supervisor,” Edwards said. “Building or repurposing a building would be one thing but then you need that day-to-day structure so that there’s no chaos.”
Edwards said she is hoping to get more feedback from BC Housing as to the likelihood of a low-barrier housing facility in Port Alberni.
“Basically [BC Housing] needs a non-profit that’s going to administer it, report back and do the hiring. It’s quite a commitment. They need that assurance that it’s being administered properly,” she said.
An estimated 30–35 people in the Valley are in need of low-barrier housing—a number that was approximated after discussions with homeless outreach and mental health workers, Edwards said.
Further plans for low-barrier housing in the Valley will be discussed at the AVCSI’s Friday, Jan. 27 meeting.