Port Alberni has a shortage of accommodation for low income earners, resulting in more couch surfing than the community saw a decade ago, says the chair of a committee tasked to end homelessness.
As the head of the Alberni Valley Community Stakeholders Initiative to End Homelessness, Patty Edwards is seeking input from the whole community on local struggles. The group is preparing to re-write the Alberni Valley's plan to handle homelessness, objectives that haven't been updated since 2008.
Edwards is set to present the initiative to city council on Monday with Amanda Ridgway, a hired consultant who recently completed a homelessness plan in the Comox Valley.
Edwards believes local issues have changed since the last homelessness plan was drafted, citing a shortage of affordable housing. Since 2008, Rogers Street Housing opened across from North Island College, offering 42 low-cost bachelor units. Managed by the Canadian Mental Health Association, this complex brought more transitional housing to Port Alberni, but other low-rental apartments have been lost or gone unused, said Edwards. These include the demolished Somass Hotel and 3655 Fourth Ave., which was torn down this month after sitting unused for over a year.
"There's been some fires, there's been some buildings demolished, but there's no new housing coming on," said Edwards. "In Port Alberni we have people living in campers, we have people living in little holiday trailers."
A recent report by the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association stated that many renters are struggling to make ends meet. While the average rent is $652 a month - $336 below the provincial average - nearly half of tenants in Port Alberni are spending over one third of income on accommodation, an affordable housing threshold set by the association.
Among renting families, the bottom quarter of local income earners make under $15,130 annually, stated the report. On average this group spends 63 per cent of earnings on rent.
Edwards has seen struggles worsen over the last decade for Port Alberni's renters.
"We have a lot of couch surfing because people can't find housing," she said. "We don't see people sleeping on park benches, but you see two families in one building that's meant for one family."
The committee has a $6,000 grant from the Alberni Valley Community Foundation to identify the most prevalent shelter issues in the community. In the future the group expects to hold public forums and consult local agencies that deal with the homeless.
© Copyright 2015 Alberni Valley Times - See more at: http://www.avtimes.net/news/local-news/homelessness-persists-in-alberni-1.1740465#sthash.88726poz.dpuf