Port Alberni could benefit from new supportive housing for women and children fleeing violence as soon as 2021.
BC Housing is proposing to build approximately 20 units of second-stage housing on a piece of city-owned land at the intersection of Vimy Street and Rosewood Street. BC Housing, in partnership with the Alberni Community and Woman’s Services Society (ACAWS), came to city council on Monday, Dec. 9 asking for a letter of intent.
The province announced a year ago that Port Alberni will be one of 12 communities across B.C. to benefit from new supportive housing for women and children fleeing violence. ACAWS was selected to operate the second-stage housing, which provides safe, short-term housing and supports for women and children after they leave an abusive relationship or situation.
ACAWS already operates the Port Alberni Transition House, which has 12 beds for women and children at risk to stay for up to 30 days. At the Transition House, women and their children are offered a place to stay on a short-term basis and they receive essentials such as food, clothing, and toiletries while in residence there.
According to Sean Rorison, development manager with BC Housing, ACAWS accommodates around 101 women and 60 children on average per year. RCMP domestic violence arrests (with charges) average around 98 per year. The existing transition house in Port Alberni has reported an occupancy rate of more than 97 percent.
“There is very much a need for more housing of this type in the community,” said Rorison.
In these new housing units, women will be able to stay for six to 18 months as they prepare to transition to more permanent homes.
The letter of intent will set out the lease and redevelopment of the property. BC Housing intends to lease the land from the city and own the housing facility, while ACAWS will manage the day-to-day operations and oversee the tenant selection process.
The project will include administrative offices and ACAWS staff will be on site throughout the week to assist in the day-to-day operation of the site, as well as offer supportive educational programs such as financial literacy and building self-esteem. Staff will also offer a variety of referral services.
ACAWS executive director Ellen Frood read a supportive letter on Monday that was written by neighbours of the current Transition House.
“There’s always a fear about what’s going to happen and what kind of people live in projects and places like this,” she said. “What I want people to understand is that we’re serving a very vulnerable population and we will be putting measures in place to assure not only they but the neighbours will be safe, as well. I think that’s a key priority for everybody.”
Frood added that the Transition House has about five calls to the RCMP per year.
“More often the RCMP are bringing people to us to bring them to safe housing,” said Frood.
Council agreed on Monday to execute a letter of intent. Mayor Sharie Minions emphasized that it’s been 20 years since BC Housing has had the funding to provide new housing for women and children at risk of violence.
“That number was really shocking to me, especially in Port Alberni where we do have higher than average domestic abuse and it’s a serious concern for our community,” said Minions.
Next steps include subdivision to create a parcel of land suitable for the development, a public rezoning application process, and a public development permit process. BC Housing will also be holding community consultation over the coming months.
If you are in need of assistance or a safe place, please reach out to ACAWS at 250-724-7111 or www.acaws.ca.