Residents living near the Port Alberni Shelter Society’s “Our Home on 8th” shelter are petitioning for the installation of a fence in the area.
Dee Charlton, who lives on Ninth Avenue near the shelter, brought a petition to city council on Monday, Nov. 28 signed by more than a dozen neighbours in the area asking for the Shelter Society to install a fence behind the building.
Charlton explained that since the new shelter opened in 2019, Ninth Avenue has become a “thoroughfare” for people using and selling drugs, most of whom don’t actually live at the shelter. Neighbours are kept awake by the loud noise of arguments and emergency vehicles, and Charlton says a fatal overdose took place right outside her house this summer.
“There’s no control of any of the activities on Ninth,” she said. “We all clean up garbage, we all pick up needles, burnt tinfoil and excrement constantly.”
Although the Shelter Society previously operated a shelter in the same area, this was closed after Our Home on 8th opened in 2019 (it was re-opened in 2020 to deal with overflow during the COVID-19 pandemic). Charlton says there were “no notable incidences” at the previous shelter.
“This new shelter is totally out of control,” she said. “With an elementary school almost kitty-corner to that shelter, children and parents walking to and from school, there must be control.”
She suggested building a fence behind the shelter to help control the flow of traffic onto Ninth Avenue. She also suggested the installation of more cameras and lights to monitor activity and prevent overdoses in unseen areas.
Wes Hewitt, the executive director of the Shelter Society, was in council chambers on Monday and asked council for a letter of support to be sent to BC Housing for the installation of a fence. However, Hewitt warned that a fence is not a “be-all, end-all solution.” The main issue, he said, is that the shelter is over capacity.
“Shelters are supposed to be short-term housing,” he said, but that isn’t the case anymore. Back in 2009, said Hewitt, the shelter was able to house people within 15 days of their arrival at the shelter.
“We now have people staying at the shelter that have been there for close to two years,” he said. “We’re just warehousing people. The city doesn’t need more shelters—what the city needs is more supportive housing so we can cut down the numbers.”
Hewitt did agree, however, that a fence would change the traffic flow in the area.
Council agreed on Nov. 28 to provide this letter of support. Councillor John Douglas, who is special projects manager for the Shelter Society, recused himself from the discussion and decision.