Port Alberni Friendship Center selected to run Our Home on 8th shelter | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Port Alberni Friendship Center selected to run Our Home on 8th shelter

Port Alberni, BC

BC Housing has selected the Port Alberni Friendship Centre (PAFC) as the new operator of the Our Home on 8th supportive housing and shelter building.

“The Port Alberni Friendship Center is excited at the opportunity to be the new operator of Our Home on 8th,” said PAFC Executive Director Cyndi Stevens. 

She went on to say that the PAFC has extensive experience in delivering this type of support and service in the valley.

“We have been providing services, programming, culturally comprehensive events and programming, and celebrating special occasions with the community since 1965,” Stevens added. “We bring the strength of expertise along with those of our solid and long-standing partnerships and relationships that we have built within Port Alberni and beyond.”

Our Home on 8th, built in 2019, provides 30 supportive housing units, each with a bathroom and kitchenette, and 20 shelter spaces available to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness in the community. At the time the Port Alberni Shelter Society (PASS) was awarded the contract to run the shelter.

Not long after it opened concerns about how the shelter was being run were raised and protestors set up camp on the lawns outside the shelter in the fall of 2020. The encampment came down on BC Housing’s promise of a third-party review of services.

The provincial review report was released in February 2021. In January 2023 Ha-Shilth-Sa reported that BC Housing would cancel its service contract for Our Home on 8th with the Port Alberni Shelter Society without stating a reason. The provincial review report, however, noted that a list of individuals banned from the facility was circulating and, at one point in time, contained 100 names.

“Another, more recent version (of the list) has 50 names,” states the report. “How these lists came to be publicly circulated is unknown, but it has resulted in the further stigmatization of those barred individuals.”

The 2021 Point in Time Homeless Count revealed that there are about 125 people experiencing homelessness in Port Alberni. About 65 percent of that number identify as Indigenous. Indigenous people make up 17 percent of the population of Port Alberni, according to census data.

BC Housing invited select non-profit housing and shelter operators to submit proposals to operate Our Home on 8th in January 2023. The invitation focused on Indigenous-led operators to best support guests and residents, the majority of whom identify as Aboriginal.

The Port Alberni Friendship Center was selected and will begin managing Our Home on 8th, located at 3939 8th Ave., on April 1. BC Housing promises there will be no interruption of services to current shelter guests or supportive housing residents.

We are committed to creating a safe, culturally connected, and welcoming environment to the residents and guests at Our Home on 8th,” said Stevens.

BC Housing states that PAFC will have experienced staff onsite around the clock to provide residents and guests with supports, including daily meals, life-skills training, employment assistance and counselling, physical and mental-health resources, as well as access to addiction treatment and recovery services.

In addition to those services, PAFC will incorporate Indigenous culture into their programing. They will offer opportunities for residents, visitors, and guests to experience culture, language, singing, drumming, traditional medicines and teachings from elders and knowledge keepers, according to BC Housing.

The PAFC will also operate the Walyaqil Tiny Shelter Village in Port Alberni, scheduled to open in spring 2023 on 4th Avenue.

“We are looking forward to beginning the important work of supporting those who need it the most by embedding Indigenous culture within the programs and services that will be offered,” said Stevens. “We thank our community and our amazing partners for your support and look forward to working with you all during this transition and into the future.”

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