A new two storey, 22-unit housing facility has opened in Port Alberni that fills a gap for women and gender-diverse people escaping domestic violence. The second-stage housing units are meant to provide homes between short-term emergency housing and long-term housing.
According to the B.C. Ministry of Housing, the two-storey wood-frame wiikšaḥiquʔił has 22 second-stage homes for women and gender-diverse people escaping violence, including transgender women, Two-Spirit and non-binary people, and their dependent children from Port Alberni and surrounding areas. The building has a mix of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Nov. 17.
“This second-stage housing provides women and gender-diverse people space for safe short-term housing and for those who need it the most,” stated Tseshaht Chief Councillor Wawmeesh, Ken Watts, at the event. “This not only benefits Tseshaht, Nuu-chah-nulth and Indigenous women in the valley; but all those who desperately need it as they move from transition housing, to second stage and ultimately long-term housing. We know Sage Haven will provide much needed support to these individuals throughout their stay.”
According to Sage Haven Society (formerly the Alberni Community and Women’s Services Society), which will operate the new development, second-stage housing provides safe, short-term shelter and supports for women and their dependent children leaving violence.
“Residents typically move into second-stage housing after a stay in a transition house and can stay for six to 18 months while they prepare for independent living,” stated the Society.
Sage Haven then provides supports to help individuals and their children to live independently. They will assist residents in applying for social and private-market housing, as well as provide rent subsidies.
Funding for the $8.6 million project came from the province, through BC Housing. The Building BC: Women's Transition Housing Fund will provide an annual operating subsidy of approximately $300,000. Land for the development was provide by the City of Port Alberni. For safety reasons, the address of the facility has not been publicized.
"Today marks a momentous occasion for Port Alberni as we express our heartfelt gratitude to the province for their substantial investment in our community," said Sharie Minions, mayor of Port Alberni. "I want to extend my sincere appreciation to our dedicated project partners, the Sage Haven Society and BC Housing, for their unwavering commitment to establishing a sanctuary for women and children escaping domestic violence."
"We're grateful to have community partners like the Sage Haven Society, who are committed to making a meaningful difference for vulnerable women and children seeking a new start," said Josie Osborne, MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim. "Everyone deserves a safe place to call home and to be able to live a life free from violence, and I know these 22 homes will change the lives of their residents."
Sage Haven Society says they are now accepting applications for residents. People are expected to move into their new homes in December. Residents will pay either 30 per cent of their income for rent or, for those receiving income or disability assistance, the provincial shelter rate.
Chief Watts praised Sage Haven for their work and for the respect they have shown to Tseshaht and their territory. Early in the summer the First Nation received $5 million from the province to buy land in Port Alberni to build homes, funding for the first stage of a large-scale housing development Tseshaht is looking into.
“Tseshaht looks forward to building our future off-reserve housing not only for our members, but all those who need it including individuals who move on from wiikšaḥiquʔił in their next stage of their housing journey and healing,” he said.