Port Alberni needs a little more coordination in order to end homelessness, according to AVCSI coordinator Terry Deakin.
The Alberni Valley Community Stakeholders Initiative to End Homelessness Committee was formed at the request of city council in 2007 to identify key issues in the community and to develop safe, affordable and supportive housing in the community.
Deakin came to city council on Monday, July 10 with four requests of the city: to link their strategic plan to the city’s website, to work with city staff and AVCSI to determine available property for housing projects, to endorse and support a local Housing First program and to support sharing of housing issues and developments to keep the public informed.
During her delegation, Deakin also provided some background information for some of the work AVCSI has done in the community recently, including a housing forum in May of this year to consult with the community and a “Point in Time” homeless count in November of 2016.
The homeless count provided some alarming numbers. Of the 73 people surveyed, 75 percent were with no permanent housing, and 76 percent were Aboriginal.
“We really need to take a look at that,” said Deakin.
Another notable number was the fact that 31 percent of those who identified as homeless had moved to the community within the past year. Councillor Ron Paulson questioned why.
“When I’ve travelled to different communities and participated in different homelessness activities and workshops, other communities tell me that they recommend people to come to Port Alberni because we still have housing,” said Deakin. “People are coming not only from the big centres like Vancouver and Victoria. Now different agencies that work with homelessness in their communities are recommending that people come here.”
Deakin pointed out that although Port Alberni does have housing, the city doesn’t have an organized system of care.
“We have people coming in and out of the shelter, in and out of jail, in and out of the hospital,” she said. “We have outreach workers working with people, but it’s not coordinated. So people are circling around in the system, and there is no coordinated access.”
She added that Port Alberni has no zero barrier housing, and the number of homeless people in the community has increased, even since the “Point in Time” count in November.
“We do need to coordinate that,” she said.
Deakin went over AVCSI’s goals and recommendations, including a new shelter project for the community. When Ruttan asked what this shelter might cost, the number came up at around eight million for 50 people.
“You take 50 and divide it into 8 million, you could buy a bunch of apartments for that,” said Ruttan. “That seems like a heck of a lot of money for a shelter. I think that’s probably causing a few people, particularly government-level, to swallow pretty hard. There’s no question we need some upgrading but eight million, eight and a half million for a new shelter does give people pause.”
Regarding Deakin’s four requests of council, Ruttan said the first request would be easy enough to address, and the second would be best addressed by director of development services Scott Smith.
“Certainly the city does have property in various parts of the city, and [Smith] can help identify some of that with you,” he said. “You can look at some of that and identify some locations that you think are worthwhile and come to city council with a proposal.”
Regarding Housing First, he said, “Canada has a spectacularly successful example of Housing First in Medicine Hat. But Medicine Hat, when they started, had over a thousand homeless people. A thousand homeless people in a city of 60,000, that’s pretty significant. As a city, Port Alberni doesn’t have that issue. Not to that degree.”
With regards to the fourth and final request, Ruttan said sharing of housing issues and developments was an ongoing process.
“It’s not that we don’t have a lot of services in town, it’s a matter of coordinating those services,” he said.