Uptown building housing homeless given Do Not Occupy order from city

Port Alberni, BC

Close to a dozen people were displaced after the former CJAV building (2976 Third Ave.) was given a Do Not Occupy order by the City of Port Alberni.

The building was deemed unsafe to occupy by Port Alberni fire chief Mike Owens, and everyone sleeping in the building was evacuated on Dec. 29. Inside the building, load bearing walls and posts had been removed, causing the possibility of collapse. In addition, proper fire protection systems were not in place.

The city’s bylaw department, Port Alberni RCMP members and the Canadian Mental Health Association were on-site with the fire department and assisted with coordinating emergency shelter for those individuals being displaced as a result of the Do Not Occupy order.

Building owner Randy Brown, who also owns the Winter Green apartments on Fourth Avenue, said his intention was to house more than 12 people for cheap despite the fact that the building was under a Do Not Occupy order from the city’s building official. 

“I picked up 11 futons… and built these little partition walls to separate everybody because of Covid and privacy and we had everything in there, all nice new bedding on [December] 24th and we had people coming off the streets,” Brown said. “Between [December] 24th and 29th we went from just a couple people to 16 people.”

Brown said his plan is to renovate the building to accommodate three suites each with a bathroom, shower, fridge, microwave and hot plate.

“I already started putting up walls and getting ready to put three suites upstairs. I’ve been turned down for a demolition permit to start the demolition on the back stairs and the chimney and put in a new deck, new stairs and then I would work on the inside of the building after,” Brown said. “While we’re doing it we had found that some trusses in one area had been compromised and this probably happened about 50 years ago.”

Brown said he hired an engineer to view the space in order to begin improvements to the upstairs area, but work was shut down by Port Alberni’s bylaw department because Brown did not have the proper permits.

During the official building evacuation on Dec. 29, Brown recorded city personnel and RCMP members enforcing the Do Not Occupy order to close the building and posted the video to social media. The video shows a city bylaw services officer conversing with Brown using profane language.

The city and the bylaw officer have since released an apology.

“The behavior displayed on the video is not condoned by the city, does not meet the expectations we have for ourselves and is not reflective of the great work that the bylaw services department and other city personnel regularly do in sometimes difficult circumstances,” said Chief Administrative Officer Tim Pley in a City of Port Alberni news release. “The conversation captured on video between the bylaw services officer and Mr. Brown demonstrated a familiarity between the two, which in my opinion contributed to the officer straying away from professional demeanor. The bylaw services officer was quick to apologize for his conduct, and I have accepted that apology.”

In the press release, the bylaw services officer offered his apology to the city and his co-workers for his use of inappropriate language while on duty.

“While communicating with Mr. Brown I used profanity which was inappropriate and does not reflect the professionalism that I strive to bring to my work every day,” he said. “The manner in which I communicated during those moments did not reflect my compassion for our citizens for whom accessing safe housing is a daily challenge.”

The Do Not Occupy order will remain in effect, until the city’s building official advises the Port Alberni Fire Department that the structure meets acceptable specifications within the BC Building Code, and there is no longer a danger to life or property.

“Port Alberni, like many communities is experiencing profound challenges addressing the issues of housing, mental health and addiction,” said Mayor Sharie Minions in a press release. “City council and I continue to work with partnering agencies such as BC Housing and Island Health to address these issues. Our goal is that safe, affordable and accessible housing is available to all of our citizens. I would like to take this opportunity to express our most sincere thanks to those in our community who work each day serving our most vulnerable citizens.”

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