After more than a decade of Raffles Inn hosting the year-round homeless shelter, BC Housing stated it’s looking for a new site.
“Given the condition of the Raffles Inn, we acknowledge that a more suitable location is needed for the shelter. BC Housing is working with the city and the North Coast Transition Society to identify a new location,” said Darren Harbord, spokesperson for the ministry of municipal affairs and housing, in an email on Nov. 29.
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BC Housing has been supporting the Prince Rupert Salvation Army to manage the 12-bed homeless shelter out of Raffles Inn since 2005. But after tent city popped up outside city hall in early November, the homelessness situation in the community was drawn out into the open. MLA Jennifer Rice pointed out in council that the occupancy rate for the shelter in Raffles Inn was a mere 20 per cent in October, and that it wasn’t meeting the need.
“I think we all know, my community office knows…the people camped out on your front lawn know that the low occupancy rate at Raffles does not accurately reflect the true number of homeless that we have in Prince Rupert,” Rice said in council on Nov. 14.
Bed bugs is the reason why many people who are homeless in Prince Rupert say they won’t stay at Raffles.
“We understand that there may be concerns with bed bugs in a different part of the hotel, but the Salvation Army makes a concerted effort to ensure the shelter is clean and protected from bed bugs. If bed bugs are discovered in a shelter funded by BC Housing, we assist the society with the cost of an exterminator,” Harbord said in the email.
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Northwest manager of public health protection, Doug Quibell, said it has been a year and a half since they received a complaint. Northern Health has worked with the operator for over a decade.
“Over the years with Raffles we’ve worked with residents, pest control companies and the operator,” Quibell said.
The owner of Raffles Inn, Irene Ma, said they do their best to keep it clean and comfortable. When she heard BC Housing is searching for a new shelter locations she said: “Not that many people come here now, and if a new shelter fills the need then it has to happen.”
Earlier this year, the 50-room hotel with a restaurant and lounge on Third Avenue West was listed for $2 million.
After years of running the shelter out of Raffles Inn, Lieutenant Sabrina Silvey said she wasn’t informed that BC Housing was looking for a new location.
“As it stands right now, the last time we heard from BC Housing we will continue as we’ve been continuing,” she said on Nov. 30.
The Salvation Army is receiving approximately $168,000 in 2017/2018 to operate the homeless shelter.
BC Housing was unable to comment on what the Salvation Army’s role with the shelter will be moving forward.