Previous owners of the old Raffles Inn, Justin and Kevin Blackman of Five Eight Investments Ltd. stand inside one of the rooms in need of renovations in April 2019. Announced on May 16, 2020, the property has now been purchased by BC Housing for a 48 unit supportive housing building with a 35 space temporary shelter. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)

Welcome home – again

BC Housing purchases old Raffles Inn for new homeless shelter

It’s good news and it’s just like coming home again. A permanent new roof for the Prince Rupert Homeless Shelter has finally been found and purchased the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing announced on May 16.

The Government of B.C., through BC Housing are funding the purchase of the familiar building which is located at 1080 Third Ave. The building, known as Raffles Inn, has been purchased from private vendors for an undisclosed sum.

“Homelessness affects not only those experiencing it, but also the community as a whole,” Jennifer Rice, MLA for North Coast said. “We’re excited to work with our partners to convert this building into new supportive homes for people in Prince Rupert. These homes with supports will help people experiencing homelessness to regroup and recover, and the benefits will extend into the community.”

Five Eight Investments Ltd. purchased the property in early 2019 with the intention of converting the hotel into long term accommodation. Until the sale to Five Eight in 2019, BC Housing funded a 12 bed homeless shelter in the same property from 2005.

READ MORE: New owners of Raffles Inn to revamp bed-bug ridden hotel

Services and management of the property and new shelter will be provided by the North Coast Transition Society. The building will be converted into a permanent supportive housing building. There will be up to 48 units, each with a private washroom including shower. Units will also be fashioned with mini kitchens for the use of residents.

A commercial kitchen, with dining and lounge areas, will be outfitted and available for occupants use. Laundry facilities, storage and amenities will be included. A medical examination room will also be a feature.

Once the renovations are completed, the building will also have the capacity for a 35-space temporary shelter or an Extreme Weather Response (EWR) shelter.

Construction will begin in fall 2020. The shelter portion of the building is expected to open in early 2021, with the supportive homes ready by fall 2021.

“NCTS will operate the supportive housing building and will provide residents with 24/7 on-site staff and support services, including meal programs, life and employment skills training, health and wellness support services and opportunities for volunteer work,” the press release said.

“We are very excited about this opportunity and much needed project that serve the needs of the most marginalized members of our community,” Christine White, executive director, NCTS said. “The people of Prince Rupert have been so generous and supportive of those living on the streets. We know that this will benefit the community as having a home and a safe place is a start for life-changing opportunities.”

White said BC Housing and MLA Jennifer Rice have been a huge support in this project, in addition to all of the other community partners.

”We look forward to moving on with the project.”

Currently, the homeless shelter is occupying the upper floor of the Fisherman’s Hall on Fraser Street on a temporary lease basis.

According to the BC Housing website 95 per cent of the permanent shelter beds now available in BC are available 24 hours a day and provide three meals a day. Such is not the case currently in Prince Rupert, with many of the City’s homeless utilizing the breakfast and lunch programs offered by the Salvation Army, at a different location from the shelter. the shelter has limited hours.

The plight of the homeless and vulnerable has been a topic in Prince Rupert, as previously reported in The Northern View. During the COVID-19 pandemic the NCTS requested of the City to use the facilities at the Jim Ciccone Centre, as the previous Third Ave. location was not adequate for social distancing and public health measures.

The shelter took occupancy soon after in the Fisherman’s Hall during mid-April.

READ MORE: UPDATED: Homeless shelter concerns

Throughout the pandemic, the city’s vulnerable population have had little to no access to toilets or hand washing facilities during the day when the shelter is closed.

Even with the move to the Fisherman’s Hall, there is still not adequate shower and hygiene facilities.

At the May 11 City Council meeting, it was stated that BC Housing had applied for permits for a shower trailer and to place port-a-potties and hand washing stations on various private and provincially owned properties in the downtown area.

K-J Millar | Journalist
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