New Alberni shelter project advances

Port Alberni city council re-affirmed their support for a new shelter on Eighth Avenue but public education is in order, councillors said.

A new Port Alberni Shelter is a step closer to becoming a reality.

Port Alberni city council has re-affirmed its support in principle for a proposed shelter on Eighth Avenue.

The shelter would be located across the street from the existing one on a swath of land owned by the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

The previous city council supported the plan in February 2011. But VIHA required re-confirmation from the city to ensure the shelter fit with the city’s strategic direction before proceeding.

Despite previously supporting the project and recent efforts by the shelter society to inform council of the project some councillors’ support has wavered.

“I hope they can talk to the neighbourhood first,” Coun. Cindy Solda said. “I’ve already heard from neighbours on the project and they have some fast PR work to do.”

Coun. Hira Chopra also tepidly supported the project. “We don’t want to look like we’re forcing this there because I think they need the shelter,” he said. “If we support then they can go on to the second phase.”

The land for the new shelter would not require re-zoning, city manager Ken Watson said.

The land once housed West Coast General Hospital, until it was moved to Redford Street a decade ago.

According to VIHA’s letter to council, the next step will be for them to publicly release a Notice Of Intent to determine if other community groups are interested in using the land for a similar purpose. The issue will advance depending on the results, the letter noted.

The move is a step in the right direction, shelter administrator Wes Hewitt said after the council meeting. “This is another step in the process and we keep inching closer to meeting the need for a new facility.”

In response to council’s concern about the neighbourhood, Hewitt said “the shelter has been a part of the neighbourhood for more than 40 years.”

The proposed facility would take up the centre portion of the field, and its footprint would be no larger than the existing one. But the mix of shelter users would change.

Presently, the shelter has 42 beds: 26 transitional housing, 12 emergency and four in another category. “We’ve been operating at capacity for years now and I’ve had to turn people away,” Hewitt said.

A new facility would house more long-term residents and have better services. “Our goal is to reduce the number of shelter beds needed but it’s not going to happen overnight,” he added.

The facility would be developed in partnership with VIHA and BC Housing. In September 2011, the society received a $95,000 grant from the ACRD, which it used for pre-design services for a new facility.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

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