‘A new approach is needed’ to deal with controversial Fourth Avenue trailers

Port Alberni, BC – The controversial trailers located at the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue in Port Alberni will be removed from the property, owner Randy Brown said.

Brown brought the trailers to empty land he owns after seeing a spike of people sleeping outside on the sidewalks in the lower hallway of Fourth Avenue in 2020.

“I have a big heart,” he said. “I can’t bear to see these people out in the cold.”

His solution was to move nine trailers on his property to provide a housing solution for the homeless.

“I sent the letter to town and said what I was going to do,” Brown said. “I didn’t get an answer, but I told them, either we can do it together or I was going to do it on my own. And I did what I said I was going to do – I did it on my own. ”

The city opposed the move, and on November 23, 2020, council passed a remedial action requirement requiring the owner to remove all trailers, as they were deemed unsafe and violate city bylaws.

“We absolutely do not agree that the trailers are there because the conditions people live in put them at risk,” said Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions. “There are extension cords that feed the trailers, there is no proper sewerage, there is garbage everywhere. The property is not maintained. ”

Without alternative housing solutions, Minions said the city would not be moving any of the trailers, especially in the middle of winter, but that “it’s not good if [Brown] guard the trailers.

It’s a complex question, she admitted.

Since 1999, Brown has run a property management business and currently oversees over 20 commercial and residential properties in Port Alberni.

He charges the rent of the trailer to the residents of Fourth Avenue, but said he doesn’t earn enough for his day-to-day problems.

Minions said she felt the residents were being taken advantage of.

“We frequently hear reports from social workers and different service providers in this region of three or four people living in tiny little trailers that are not properly heated and yet pay rent,” she said. “It’s just not acceptable. It is exploiting the people in our community who are the most vulnerable.

After several site visits in early 2021, Gaylene Thorogood, Community Safety Officer at the City of Port Alberni, said that “three of the units are hooked up to the property’s sewer system without inspection or permits and the waste continues. to accumulate ”.

“The current condition of the building and the use of the property contravene city bylaw and compromise the safety of occupants and emergency personnel responding to calls at this location,” she added.

Thorogood said service calls to the site have nearly doubled since trailers moved to the property in 2020 and the RCMP have been making almost daily visits.

Several months ago, Minions said she sat down with Brown to discuss options that would improve the safety of people living in the trailers.

“We gave him very specific options on what he could come up with, and he never took any action,” she said.

Although she has yet to see any improvements, Minions said she was “happy” to hear that Brown intended to clean up the property.

Brown said it has become clear that a new approach is needed.

“It is clear that the trailers have to go,” he said in a statement, adding that it is appropriate that a safe alternative accommodation option must be available before occupants are moved.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride taking care of all these people,” Brown said. “I am not a social worker.

Keeping trash under control as Brown said it’s hard to find someone willing to work on the property.

“It’s a nightmare,” he said. “I want to move on. ”

For the past 61 years, Brown has called Port Alberni home and said the homelessness problem continues to get worse.

“It breaks my heart that we can’t come up with a simple solution,” he said.

A task force has been established by the city to develop an immediate solution for residents living in the trailers on Fourth Avenue, in collaboration with the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC), Port Alberni Friendship Center , as well as Tseshaht and Hupacasath. First Nations.

“The people [living] on fourth avenue, look for a personal space, ”said NTC vice president Mariah Charleson. “Something that is theirs – a place where they can keep their belongings safe. ”

A barrier-free and non-discriminatory housing solution is essential, she said.

Port Alberni’s homeless tally in 2021 indicated a significant increase in the number of people who identified as indigenous, rising to 65% from 48% in 2018. According to the 2016 census, only 17% of the General population of Port Alberni is Aboriginal.

“Our loved ones struggle day in and day out to find a warm place to rest at night,” Charleson said. “We can’t just leave these people homeless because we know we already have a crisis in Port Alberni. ”

Without access to culturally appropriate or safe services, Charleson said many Indigenous people feel uncomfortable asking for help.

Following the success of the sleeping cabin model in Duncan, the work team plans to implement a similar system in Port Alberni. Pods are small, insulated sleeping units with lighting and heating that provide homeless people with a safe, dry place to rest their heads at night.

This would act as an immediate solution, until a permanent, long-term option is identified, Minions said.

“It is not a permanent option for people, but until a permanent option is created, we believe there must be a safer and more immediate alternative,” she added.

The task force has only met once. Another meeting should take place in a week or two.

As soon as a housing solution is presented and there is a safe place for residents of Fourth Avenue, Brown said the trailers will be removed “immediately.”