Cyndi Stevens, executive director of the Port Alberni Friendship Center, stands in front of the future site of Watyaqit Tiny Home Village in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Cyndi Stevens, executive director of the Port Alberni Friendship Center, stands in front of the future site of Watyaqit Tiny Home Village in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

‘Tiny homes’ secured for vulnerable population in Port Alberni

Temporary development will address homelessness crisis short term, says housing task force

The Port Alberni Friendship Center will be opening a “tiny home” development in Port Alberni to help solve homelessness in the city.

Watyaqit Tiny Home Village will open later this year on a city-owned lot in the 3600-block of Fourth Avenue. The effort to get Watyaqit off the ground is a collaborative effort between the Friendship Center, BC Housing, City of Port Alberni and the Housing Task Force that includes Tseshaht, Hupacasath, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and other community partner agencies.

Both Tseshaht Elected Chief Councillor Ken Wahmeesh Watts and Hupacasath Elected Chief Councillor Brandy Lauder expressed appreciation to BC Housing for the funding that will ultimately help the task force relocate to safe housing a group of people living in unsafe conditions in travel trailers on a nearby Fourth Avenue lot.

“This initiative is a great example of what’s possible when different partners work together for the best interest of our most marginalized population,” said, Mariah Charleson, vice-president of Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

“Housing is a human right that everyone should have the ability to access without discrimination and further marginalization. I send gratitude to all of those who fought tirelessly to make this happen.”

The 8×12-foot tiny homes, under construction by ZenDenz of Surrey, will be secure, dry sleeping pods with hydro and Wi-Fi. There will be an office staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by trained and qualified personnel, providing access to counselling and other services, meals provided every day, and First Nations-based cultural events. Two washroom and shower facilities will be provided by BC Housing.

“It’s amazing,” said Cyndi Stevens, executive director of Port Alberni Friendship Center, which spearheaded the project.

“It will get people out of dangerous and difficult situations, where they’re living in tents, living in corridors of buildings. Often they don’t even have blankets, they’re just sitting there freezing and wet,” she said.

“We will treat it like a little community. We’re really looking forward to being able to provide a place where they can shower and feel like it’s a home and a community, where they’re actually cared for. That their life has some meaning and purpose and that they can feel there’s a future for them.”

There will be 15 tiny homes to begin with; the Friendship Center and supporters are applying for funding for an additional 15, for a total of 30 units on the Fourth Avenue site. While Watyaqit is being called “temporary housing” for now, Stevens said the goal will be to transition people living in the units to longer-term sustainable low-barrier housing.

While there will be a large First Nations focus to the site, the units will be open for everyone. “We’ve always been an organization that opens our doors to everyone,” she said.

“The Indigenous population is a higher proportion of homeless people,” she added. “It will come naturally that that will happen. We also feel often our Indigenous people don’t have as many supports,” and the Friendship Center is there to support people who are living away from their home communities and not receiving support they would normally get from their home communities.

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Alberni ValleyHousing and HomelessnessPort Alberni