Homelessness is not a new problem on Vancouver. It has, however, become a very visible problem.
Take the tent city that recently grew out of protest on the property beside Port Alberni’s Our Home on Eighth shelter.
The issue of homelessness and tent cities has grown in other Vancouver Island communities, so the fact it is also happening in Port Alberni shouldn’t come as a surprise. The community’s COVID-19 response team can attest to the number of people who receive hot meals from the Salvation Army and the mobile kitchen van that has a daily schedule of stops.
The city at one time had the Community Stakeholders Initiative to End Homelessness (known as CSI) advocating for its homeless population. In 2017, a decade after the committee was formed, its coordinator said more organization was needed. The CSI seems to have become silent while its core issue is starting to roar in the community.
One issue brought up in 2017 is that while Port Alberni had housing options at the time, there was no coordinated system of care for people needing housing. This confusion has been exacerbated with COVID-19 shutting people out of services and making even the most basic needs like finding a public toilet challenging.
The city has little power in dealing with housing—that happens at the provincial level. Council can, however, push for help. That needs to happen now more than ever.
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions told her council at the Nov. 9 public meeting that she is most assuredly pressing the emergency nature of homelessness to provincial and federal government agencies. This is good news; because it truly is an emergency in Port Alberni, with the potential to become even worse.
There are two multi-unit buildings that were recently slapped with remediation orders, and depending on what happens with both of them, there could be dozens of people thrust on the street with nowhere to go.
The owner of the Port Pub evicted 20 people who were not authorized to be living in the hotel part of his building; he has spent the past month working through the city’s list of remediation demands.
The owners of the Harbourview Apartments on Third Avenue, at least outwardly, don’t seem to have worked on their list at all. If the city is forced to take over and fix the building itself, how many residents in that building will be left homeless or waiting on a BC Housing registry?
Many of the residents from these buildings have underlying issues that drive them to such housing units. They are difficult to keep as tenants. But even people who are hard to house still need housing.
It is time for this fight to become vocal again—in all the right places.
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