The Beaufort Hotel in Port Alberni’s Uptown could soon see renovations and upgrades that would convert the former convention centre into supportive and low-barrier housing.
The Bread of Life and the Lookout Housing and Health Society from Vancouver have entered into a purchase agreement to buy the hotel.
There are currently 19 units in the building, all of which are occupied. The Bread of Life and Lookout are hoping to renovate the building to accommodate at least 50 units. No current residents would be displaced during construction.
John Edmondson, board member and officer at the Bread of Life, said funding for the purchase and renovations will most likely come from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) rapid housing funding. He said the Bread of Life had previously applied for the funding through the CMHC and were very close to being approved but funds ran out.
“We were told ‘Don’t worry, when the next funds are announced we’re first in line and we’ll get to you.’ Fortunately for us that next round was announced about a week ago,” Edmondson said at a July 26 Port Alberni city council meeting. “The reason this fund is so appealing to not only us, but the rest of Canada, is this is a grant, it’s a 100 per cent grant for all expenses except for operations.”
Edmondson said while waiting for funding, the Bread of Life met with Lookout Society and started talking about their approach and plans for the Beaufort Hotel.
“About a month ago we signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to purchase and renovate the Beaufort Hotel and turn it into an operation centre and housing for about 50 rooms,” Edmondson said. “Just last week, Lookout entered into a purchase agreement on the Beaufort, so we feel like we’re making progress.”
If the partners can secure the funding, they estimate about $3.5 million will be used for renovations. The purchase would also include the parking lot across from the hotel.
Lookout Society has been providing minimal-barrier housing and services for homeless people for 50 years in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. They currently have 55 sites, including in Victoria and Duncan and about one-third of Lookout clients identify as Métis or First Nations.
Chuck Puchmayr, president of Lookout Society, told Port Alberni council that he sees great opportunity for the Beaufort Hotel.
“I’ve been to Port Alberni and looked at [the hotel]. It’s an amazing building, it looks pretty rough inside but there’s huge potential. It’s a very solid building,” Puchmayr said. “We don’t come in and evict people when we do make these purchases, especially when they’re a low-income building. The only time we move them out is when they decide to move on to other places.”
Puchmayr added that what’s left of a kitchen facility on the main floor of the building could be renovated and used for a culinary program that Lookout currently provides to clients on the mainland.
Mary Campbell, long time staff member with Lookout, said they hope to have 24/7 staff on-site once renovations are complete.
“All of Lookout services are trauma-informed, minimum-barrier. We understand that people who are homeless have a lot more challenges other than just not having money or a home,” Campbell said. “Many are suffering with substance use, mental health challenges, physical disabilities and I’d say every single person we see has some kind of trauma in their background. We really have developed this large component of health supports.”
Campbell said Lookout is confident in their ability to manage large construction and renovation projects, as they have constructed eight buildings from scratch making them suitable for homeless individuals.
“We also have good relationships with funders, BC Housing and Island Health,” Campbell said. “We do have three contracts with Island Health in Victoria and Duncan right now. We’re quite confident in this and we’re excited about the possibility of this project and being successful on it.”
The purchase of the Beaufort and bringing in an outside service provider like Lookout aligns with one of the recommendations on a BC Housing report released in March from a third-party review that looked into operational concerns surrounding the Port Alberni Shelter Society’s management of two Port Alberni shelters. It was recommended that an alternate shelter or housing facility with strong mental health and substance use supports be developed in Port Alberni by a different service provider and with collaboration from local First Nation’s representatives.
Port Alberni council will write a letter of support to help Lookout and the Bread of Life secure funding.
“I’m really excited to see how this process goes for you and hopefully see this come to fruition in our community,” said Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions. “There’s certainly a need and I think you’ll be a great proponent to make a positive improvement here.”