Nuu-chah-nulth woman moves from Port Alberni after mass eviction of Port Pub Hotel | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Nuu-chah-nulth woman moves from Port Alberni after mass eviction of Port Pub Hotel

Port Alberni, BC

Hurt, angry, scared. That is how Cic John, 49, of Ehattesaht/Ahousaht said she felt when she learned she was being evacuated from Port Pub, the run-down hotel she called home for more than two years.

It has been less than two weeks since residents of the dilapidated 24-unit Port Pub received emergency evacuation orders from the Port Alberni Fire Department chief, and some former residents are struggling to find permanent homes.

It was on Wednesday, May 29 that residents of Port Pub were given hours to pack up and move out. The City of Port Alberni has been struggling with the owner of the building, Peter Wang, to have repairs done. In January the city issued him an order to bring the building up to acceptable standards.

Wang has not responded to the City of Port Alberni’s orders. Without adequate fire suppression nor the ability to bring city workers and contractors into the building due to exposure to hazardous materials, there was no choice but to evict the tenants for their own safety, according to the municipal government.

John, who was diagnosed with bone cancer, struggles with pain. She said she had been living on the streets in the winter just over two years ago before friends suggested she try get a room at Port Pub.

After living on the sidewalk next to the Safe Injection Site, the larger, single room on the corner of the Port Pub building was a step up from the street. The rent was $500 split with a couple. Cic says she paid $275 of the monthly rent.

The couple, she said, slept on a single bed while Cic slept on the love seat. The room had its own full bathroom. Some rooms at Port Pub don’t have restrooms. There is a communal bathroom and shower on each floor for those tenants.

It is rumoured that some paying tenants didn’t even have rooms.

“Yeah, it’s true that some slept in halls and stairs, or in empty rooms,” Cic said.

But they didn’t pay rent, and were there for a place to sleep.

“The maintenance guy started boarding up empty rooms that they were trying to fix, to keep the homeless out of there,” said John.

But she admits there are some serious problems in the building.

“Port Pub is listing too, down toward Harbour Quay,” said John of the building’s lean. “I was in number 10 on the corner. If the building fell over, mine would be the first to go.”

Even with its problems, the place was home, and John’s rent had been paid until the end of June.

She first got word of the evacuation as they listened to the news on the radio that morning.

“I was in tears, and then we went to Bread of Life for breakfast. When we came back there was signs all over in the hallways,” she recalled. “It was hurtful. I was angry. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

At first, John decided she wasn’t going to leave her room. Then she heard other people saying that the workers are coming now, “and they put boxes by our door, and I told them to get lost,” said John.

She was scared.

“I just didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to go. I could hear everyone yelling and swearing. Crying. Lots of things being broken, thrown out the door,” said John. “We all cared for each other, we were one big happy family then we all got split.”

When it became inevitable that they had to leave, John and her roommates began packing.

“We didn’t grab much of our stuff because we didn’t want it getting mixed up with other people’s stuff. There was only two moving trucks,” said John.

Some tenants rented more than one room so that they would have storage.

“They had lots of stuff and we started helping others trying to move their stuff. One old lady was there just about 19 years,” said John.

John and her roommates were placed in a motel room on Redford Street. Shortly after the evacuation of Port Pub, John traveled to Ahousaht to attend court and a funeral. She has reconciled with her partner in Ahousaht, who also lives in a condemned apartment.

But she is making the best of a tough situation. John has a family doctor in Ahousaht that will take care of medical needs.

“I’m trying to get things done, I’m looking for a bed and a fridge,” said John.

The condemned apartment she shares with her partner on reserve is also listing. She has heard that the residents of the building’s three units will move to new homes in the village but she doesn’t know when that will happen.

As for Port Pub, there’s a chance that it will be demolished. Port Alberni City Council met June 10 to debate the best course of action after the latest remediation orders for the property went ignored by the owner. During the meeting it was reported the city has spent more than $200,000 on the building and workers so far.

A city worker said it would cost approximately $1 million to remediate the building or an estimated $200,000 to demolish. Abatement, hazardous materials and other unknown costs need to be factored in.

It was stated at the meeting that the property has been listed for sale.

Mayor Sharie Minions noted that while it may be popular consensus in the community to have the building demolished, this would take 24 low-income housing units out of the inventory. As deplorable as the conditions are at Port Pub, if there is a chance to rehabilitate the building, saving the units and keeping them in the inventory would be quicker than waiting for new construction to come online.

City Council is hoping that BC Housing will consider buying the building to renovate and rent out. The city will revisit the demolition order in two weeks.

For now, as long as the building sits empty and the owner is not taking responsibility for his property, the city continues to incur costs of securing the structure.

Another cost to the city is the handling of tenants’ property still in the building. John says she wonders how she will get her stuff back from Port Pub.

“I have a little fridge, microwave, and other stuff,” she said.

At the council meeting it was reported that the city wants to get the belongings to their owners as soon as possible. But they need to find a way to allow workers to safely enter the building to properly sort and store personal belongings so that they don’t get mixed together. No timeline has been set for this work.

John hopes to come to Port Alberni soon, to pick up her belongings and to check in with her roommates and fellow Port Pub tenants.

“Nobody knows where everybody went,” said John, adding she only knows about those who were sent to the same motel she stayed in. “People are still calling me, looking for others.”

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