A black-and-white photo of a person lying on a sidewalk. The photo is cropped at the person's knees. Their jeans and feet are dirty.

Photo Credit: Marta Maclean | Flickr

Beds or Bars? Can’t We Have Both?

New proposal for low barrier shelter makes a stir in Port Alberni Council Meeting

Helping people sleep safely should help local business as well, right?

Twenty-five Port Alberni residents could be getting a new home. The Salvation Army has applied to open low-barrier beds for those in need at the Bread of Life on Third Avenue.

These shelter beds have the potential to make a huge difference in the lives of some people who are very down on their luck and currently living on the streets.

With the soup kitchen next door, it’s the perfect place to help people get a new start.

Some Port Alberni councillors still held concern over the proposed location, stating fears for newly opened businesses.

“We have a fledgling business right across the street that they have put some significant capital investment into and I’m a little concerned about the effect on a new business,” said Councillor Ron Paulson about Dog Mountain Brewing.

He opposed the proposal, but the reasoning was not all there.

With the soup kitchen already down the street (and even if it wasn’t), 25 beds could only reduce the number of people on the street.

“This will allow people to be sheltered, so it will actually help to clean up the area,” said Councillor Debbie Haggard.

Helping people have a fresh bed to stay in at night makes them much less likely to hang outside a local bar.

The proposed shelter would stay open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. for beds and also keep a drop-in space open during the day. Staff will all be from the Salvation Army.

Port Alberni’s most recent homeless count identified 125 people living without housing in the community. To make things more complicated, it’s gotten harder to find a place to live in Port Alberni, especially since the pandemic. Property assessments went up by 47 percent last year, but people are still moving to the area.

“There’s been just a huge influx of people moving to the community. And of course that’s been driving up the real estate sales,” Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions told CBC earlier this year.

A shelter bed isn’t the same as a place to live. But at least it’s a safe place to sleep.

And this shelter could work alongside other housing projects like the tiny homes and the renovation of the old school site.