Island Health officials on Friday evicted protesters and occupants at a ‘tent city’ that cropped up three weeks ago beside Port Alberni’s shelter.
An eviction notice was hand delivered on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020 by Island Health’s director for the Alberni-Clayoquot region, a spokesperson said. Marie Duperreault and other Island Health representatives arrived Friday morning to carry out the eviction. The protesters and campers, led by former provincial independent candidate Graham Hughes, had set up in front of the shelter on Oct. 23. A week later Hughes was arrested and later released, and the camp forced to move off the Island Health-owned property where the shelter is located.
The health authority also owns the land adjacent to the shelter where as many as 14 tents had set up over the past three weeks. Some of the occupants claimed they were barred from the shelter, while others said the conditions were better in the tent city than the shelter, which has rules that clients are expected to follow.
The eviction came at the behest of Port Alberni City Council. “We had asked VIHA (Island Health) to deal with the trespass issue,” city CAO Tim Pley said Friday.
Campers and protesters had been asked a week previously to end their occupation after BC Housing agreed to a review of the shelter. Pley said they were then given notice that they had to leave or would be evicted on Friday.
“On Nov. 3, the City of Port Alberni informed Island Health that the activity on the property constituted a violation of multiple city bylaws and advised that immediate action was expected and required,” an Island Health spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to the Alberni Valley News.
“The city informed Island Health that it would take enforcement action if the property was not brought into compliance.”
Hughes said evicting the campers would not solve the problem. “If they’re dispersed from here, they have to go somewhere else. With the Port Alberni Shelter Society not housing these people, the big question remains, where are these people supposed to go?”
The Port Alberni Shelter Society (PASS) contracts with BC Housing and Island Health for its entities. The PASS operates the multi-service shelter on Eighth Avenue (Our Home on Eighth), overdose prevention site on Third Avenue and Bute Street, Phoenix House low-barrier housing and the sobering centre, and the Shelter Farm.
Island Health contracts the shelter society for the overdose prevention site and four sobering assessment beds, an Island Health spokesperson said. “Supporting the healthcare needs of those gathering on the property has been our immediate priority. Island Health’s Mental Health and Substance Use team has engaged those at the site to assess health-care needs and connect individuals with appropriate agencies and services, as needed,” the spokesperson said.
“Island Health is also supporting the Canadian Mental Health Association, the City of Port Alberni and BC Housing in their efforts to address any identified housing needs.”
After the tents were dismantled on Friday and property either put in the garbage or storage, pylons were put up around the site with signs warning people against trespassing, sheltering, camping or storing personal effects on the property. Campers were offered temporary shelter in local hotels.
Hughes said he planned to keep some kind of presence in front of the shelter so the broader issues of homelessness are not pushed aside. By Saturday another open-sided tent was set up on the edge of the Island Health property and people were trying to stay warm and dry around a propane fire.