By order of PAFD: All Port Pub tenants face homelessness after sudden mass eviction | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

By order of PAFD: All Port Pub tenants face homelessness after sudden mass eviction

Port Alberni, BC

Tenants of Port Pub, a 30-room, run-down nuisance property that is home to some of Port Alberni’s most underprivileged, woke to troubling news on Wednesday, May 29 – they had just a few short hours to pack what belongings they could and move out.

At 9:35 that morning the City of Port Alberni issued a statement detailing the events that led up to the latest evacuation of Port Pub.

“The City of Port Alberni is addressing a concerning situation involving hazardous materials at 5170 Argyle Street,” stated the city. “Following a remedial action order and subsequent inspections, it has been confirmed that immediate action is necessary to minimize exposure to these materials. As a result, employees and contractors have been removed from the site. This has resulted in the enactment of a Fire Order prompting the evacuation of the building due to the absence of active fire systems in the building.”

The news was so unexpected and sudden that tenants didn’t know what they could pack in a few hours or where they would go.

Port Alberni Fire Department Chief Mike Owens had the unenviable job of informing Port Pub residents of the sudden eviction order. Shortly after noon he approached some Port Pub residents in the alley next to the building, asking to have them come out to hear what he had to say to them.

With most of the residents standing around him in the alley, Owen talked about what has happened at the building since the City of Port Alberni issued a remediation order to the owner of the building in January.

He said the roof is compromised and ceilings are falling down. In February there was an issue with the fire alarms, which the city paid to have fixed for the safety of the residents. Shortly afterward, someone triggered the sprinkler system and it has since been disabled.

With no audible fire alarm and no sprinklers, the city hired security to respond in case of fire. In addition, the city has begun remedial work to make the building safe. The work at the building will be billed to the owner, along with the cost of security staff.

Debris from crumbling ceilings was sent for testing and asbestos was discovered. Chief Owen said Worksafe BC, in the absence of exact numbers, has deemed the asbestos exposure risk as moderate to high.

“We can’t have fire watch people there,” Owen told the residents.

He told them they had until 3 p.m. to evacuate the building. When asked why they don’t get a 90-day notice, Owen told them that is not the case with a Fire Order.

Outreach workers were on standby, some offering food, water and packing boxes. SPCA staff were also there with pet carriers, offering to house the animals until their owners found a place to live.

Residents milled around the alley, shocked, confused, visibly angry and upset. A woman emerged from the doorway wrapped in a blanket. She later came out of the building, crouched down on the pavement, and cried, as an outreach worker comforted her with a hug.

Most of the people living at Port Pub are on social assistance. They may not have much, but what they do have is important to them, including the crumbling roof over their heads.

“Where do we go?” asked one of the men.

“We are hoping to figure that out,” said Owen.

He advised the tenants to speak to the Canadian Mental Health Association’s housing intake workers that were on site, clipboards in hand. With little more than an hour left to pack, residents that didn’t get registered with intake workers on site were told to go to New Horizons Clubhouse to register there.

The outreach workers know the people by name. They were about as upset as the residents were.

“This is not fair,” one of them said.

There were no moving trucks, but Chief Owens said they had a vehicle available to help out. The only wheels some residents have are bicycles.

Later in the day the building would be boarded up and secured, Owen told the residents.

“What about the food in our fridges?” asked a woman.

“How are we supposed to get the rest of our shit?” asked a man.

The tenants were told that they would be able to access their belongings left behind at a later date, but Owen could not say when that would be.

Clearly angry, one of the residents said they have nowhere to go. She said they might as well build a tent city on the vacant lot next to the Port Pub.

Cory Touchie was in the alley observing the activity. With no spoon, he ate his yogurt off of his fingertips. He said he used to live at Port Pub and was only there that day to see if any of his friends needed help moving. He knew about the mass eviction before the residents did.

“When I got kicked out, I only had five hours to get out,” he shared.

He said he could only take one bag, and, with no where to go, temporarily stayed with a cousin. He says he’s been on the streets on and off for about 20 years.

“My uncle lives here,” said Touchie. “He used to take me everywhere, bike riding, showing me who family is.”

When asked if he thinks the building will be torn down, Touchie said, “well, they’d better build a fire wall around it first, with all the rats and cockroaches in there.”

Touchie said there was a bedbug infestation during his time at the hotel.

“We got infested real fast – my girlfriend woke up with three big bed bugs on her cheek,” he recalled.

Touchie is still homeless. His belongings, including bags with yogurt cups and avocados, were set on a half-wall as he waited for friends to come out of the building. He said he mostly stays by the Safe Injection Site or by the Shelter on Eighth.

“We like to go somewhere where it’s safe,” he said.

An Island Health outreach worker said that she hopes community resource services come together to collaborate to better support the displaced residents.

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