The Eagles Hall on lower Third Avenue has become a temporary cold weather shelter while the Bread of Life Centre undergoes renovations.
Port Alberni city council authorized temporary deferment of the zoning bylaw at Eagles Hall to enable Salvation Army to operate a temporary cold weather shelter until March 31, 2023.
The Bread of Life Centre, on upper Third Avenue, is undergoing renovations to construct a low-barrier shelter in the facility. The previous city council voted in favour of a temporary use permit (TUP) for the new shelter at Bread of Life at a regular meeting of council on July 11, 2022. The 25-bed shelter will be operated by the local Salvation Army and be funded annually by BC Housing.
At a regular meeting of council on Jan. 23, council voted 5-1 in favour to not enforce the C3 service commercial zoning of the Eagles Hall until March 31, which will allow the building to be used as a temporary shelter.
City staff said the building has been reviewed by an architect and the fire chief to make sure it’s up to safety standards for housing people. The new cold weather shelter facility will have 17 beds available each evening and will be staffed by the Salvation Army.
Coun. Todd Patola was the only council member in opposition of deferring the zoning bylaw at the Eagles Hall. Mayor Sharie Minions recused herself from the discussion and vote as her husband is involved with the Bread of Life.
“So moving the facility is not an emergency with regards to people’s health and ability to survive in extreme weather, but it is to convenience the Bread of Life to begin their renovations?” Patola asked. “What makes the urgency arise? There is a facility and suddenly there’s an emergency need to move that facility somewhere else. We’re being asked to basically disregard the laws of this community to facilitate that.”
Pastor Michael Ramsey of the Salvation Army told council that their contract with BC Housing says renovations for the low-barrier shelter at The Bread of Life should be complete by April, 1, 2023.
“We need to renovate the washrooms so we have proper washrooms for people, we need to put in a laundry facility and we need to make sure our supports are up to the standards for a new shelter that’s being opened up at the Bread of Life Centre,” Ramsey said. “The urgency for this is that 17 people need a place to stay while the shelter is making sure it meets the criteria from one category to another.”
Ramsey voiced concern that if no alternative cold weather shelter is in place, 17 more people could face displacement and add to a growing homelessness issue in the community.
“Local fires have displaced even further people, we would hate to have 17 more people without a roof over their head,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey said a Salvation Army member has visited neighbouring residents and businesses to the Eagles Hall to let them know about the cold weather shelter.
City staff said other buildings were reviewed for potential cold weather shelter sites but they didn’t meet safety criteria. The Eagles Hall made more sense location-wise because it’s close to services and resource for occupants to access.