Partnerships are the key to a new supportive housing project that will be built in Port Alberni this year.
The province of British Columbia announced on Tuesday, June 26 a $7.4 million commitment to build 30 units of modular housing in Port Alberni at the former West Coast General Hospital site on Eighth Avenue.
The housing will include individual units with private kitchens and bathrooms. Residents will have access to meal services, counselling, medical services and life and employment skill programs. The Port Alberni Shelter Society will operate the building and staff will be on site 24/7 to help provide these services.
The facility will also include 20 new shelter spaces and another room for extreme weather shelter spaces in the winter months.
“We are not just building housing and walking away from the problem,” said Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser on Tuesday. “We are committed to learning from those directly affected by homelessness and to funding the housing and services that will help people make significant transitions in their life.”
Shelter Society executive director Wes Hewitt said that the society began work on a shelter facility in 2010 with some seed funding from the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD). Although the society received support from various city councils over the years, they were not able to move forward without the provincial or federal government at the table.
“As a small non-profit, we do not have the wherewithal or finances to take something on of this size by ourselves,” he said.
The homes will be manufactured in Port Alberni by the Courtenay-based Muchalat Group. Because they fall under the modular housing program, construction has a quick time frame and Hewitt said they hope to be using the facility by December of this year.
The project is a partnership between the province, the city of Port Alberni, the Shelter Society and Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA). VIHA owns the land on Eighth Avenue and has agreed to lease the site to BC Housing.
“Homelessness and poor housing do have a significant impact on both the physical and mental health of our community members,” said Marie Duperreault, interim executive director of Island Health. “This housing and shelter will make a difference in the lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens of Port Alberni.”
Partnerships, she said, are essential to this kind of work, which requires more than one group or agency.
Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan also emphasized the need for partnerships.
“From the city’s perspective, we want to see this as a beginning,” he said. “We simply don’t have the financial resources to make it all happen on the taxpayer’s dime, but with the province’s help we can make these things happen.”
One resident in the area, Dee Charlton, stepped forward during the announcement on Tuesday to express her disapproval of the project, claiming that she had not been properly consulted. She said that the facility is not appropriate for the area and will take away valued green space.
“I don’t want it here,” she emphasized.
Port Alberni conducted a homeless count in 2016 that counted more than 70 people living without shelter—this did not include those living in shelters or transitional housing. A second, province-wide homeless count took place earlier this year, and the results are expected to be released this summer.
“At one time homelessness was seen as something only big cities had to worry about,” said Fraser. “But we know that that’s simply not the case.”
Ruttan agreed that the project is addressing a critical need in Port Alberni. “It’s not a scary thing,” he said. “It is something that will be an asset to the city.”