Residents speak out about Alberni shelter plans

Residents may have little recourse and a new shelter facility in Port Alberni may be a forgone conclusion.

Not everyone is happy that the Port Alberni Shelter Society is moving ahead with plans for a new facility.

Eighth Avenue resident Lesley Silverstone raised concerns about the society’s initiative in a letter to city council, which was discussed Monday.

Shelter officials were advised to get input from neighbours as the process proceeded but “…that didn’t happen,” Silverstone said.

Residents’ concerns include safety and supervision at the facility, especially after hours. Drug dealing and recent deaths at the shelter also worry residents, Silverstone said.

Police calls to the facility are also a concern. Port Alberni RCMP answered 166 calls to the shelter in the past three years, neighbourhood resident Vince Lauzon said in a separate letter.

Residents don’t want the shelter built in the neighbourhood, Silverstone said. “It will decrease our property values, decrease our lifestyle, and make this area an unpleasant area to live in.”

In a separate interview with the News, Lauzon was more pointed about the facility. “I feel for homeless people. But that is not a homeless shelter. It is a halfway house for criminals,” Lauzon said.

There’s a difference between homeless people, who Lauzon said he’s seen, and shelter residents. “Homeless people are quiet and they don’t bother anyone. They don’t act like that,” he said.

A seniors’ facility would be more appropriate for the area, Lauzon said. “My real desire would be to rid the neighbourhood of the existing shelter and its poor management of the alcohol, drugs and crime that is constantly associated with it.”

Councillors voted to have both sides in the shelter issue air their opinions about the matter at a future meeting.

In November,  city council voted to support the shelter society’s community consultation process for a new facility.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority, who owns the land the shelter wants to lease, wanted confirmation from the city that the shelter’s consultation process meets city requirements.

The issue hasn’t been communicated properly with neighbours, Coun. Cindy Solda said. “I’m not going to say ‘yes, I’m for this’ until they communicate better,” she said.

Couns. Wendy Kerr and Hira Chopra said they’d received several e-mails and phone calls about the issue. “People are saying that they weren’t consulted and that there have been no consultations,” Kerr said.

“People say there’s congestion in the area and that the services should be spread throughout the city.”

Council must be proactive in responding to residents’ requests, Coun. Hira Chopra said.“If we’re not going to do anything then there’s no incentive for people to come to the city,” he said.

“We have to answer to these people.”

Residents may have little recourse and a new shelter may be a forgone conclusion, City Manager Ken Watson said.

The land the shelter wants for a new facility is owned by VIHA, not the city. The site is already properly zoned, therefore no public process is required. City councillors already approved the plan shelter officials brought to them. All that remains is a building permit application, Watson said.

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