Mid Island-Pacific Rim independent candidate Graham Hughes will be staging an occupation of the Port Alberni Shelter Society on Friday, Oct. 23 to protest the handling of Port Alberni’s homelessness problem.
The Port Alberni Shelter Society operates the Our Home on Eighth full-service shelter, low-barrier housing and a sobering centre at Phoenix House, an overdose prevention site and community farm, all in and around Port Alberni. Hughes said his sister died while she was a client of the shelter six years ago.
Hughes decided to run for MLA as an independent candidate on a social advocacy platform. He said he hopes to “provide a voice for the disenfranchised in our community.”
Hughes and fellow candidates Helen Poon (BC Liberals) and Rob Clarke (BC Libertarian Party) spent several nights last weekend walking around the city’s vulnerable neighbourhoods handing out warm blankets, food and naloxone kits. Hughes said the homelessness situation is “in crisis,” and is asking his supporters to help him demonstrate for attention on Oct. 23.
“We will be building a tent city around the shelter society in solidarity with the homeless population who we have let die, and suffer and be traumatized because we trusted charities to do the right thing and everybody just assumed that they were,” he said.
Hughes has been vocal in his opposition to the shelter and the way it is operated.
Shelter society executive director Wes Hewitt said he was aware of Hughes’ call to occupy the shelter, but declined to address specific accusations Hughes has made publicly against the shelter. “BC Housing is aware of (the occupation) and so is Island Health.”
Hughes said officials should be petitioning to take over the former Gill Elementary School facility, which is sitting empty since School District 70 (Pacific Rim) reorganized a number of years ago. Community organizations have used the building for storage and training operations, but the property has not been sold nor has the school been demolished.
“We need to turn that into a youth shelter, and with the $3.5 million the shelter is currently receiving every year, we can open a youth shelter. We need to be doing these things…we can change the way this community is run.”
In an e-mail sent to two dozen municipal officials as well as the media Hughes appeared to throw his support behind BC Green Party candidate Evan Jolicoeur. He reiterated that in a YouTube video uploaded to his campaign Facebook page: “I am in Evan’s corner,” Hughes said.
Several hours later Jolicoeur released a statement confirming Hughes is endorsing him in Saturday’s provincial election.