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B.C. Housing minister says Penticton dumpster death adds urgency to fix housing issues

The Victory Church is a central location for Penticton's homeless community.
The Victory Church is a central location for Penticton's homeless community.

B.C.'s Housing Minister says the death of a homeless man who was crushed in a garbage compactor after sleeping in a dumpster this week highlights the urgency of fixing the province's housing issues.

David Eby, who is also the Attorney-General, said he hopes municipalities across the province respond to the situation by getting on board and approving more housing developments proposed by the province.

“It’s hard not to hear about an incident like this and feel a re-doubling of urgency to get people inside and to get them supported so that they’re not sleeping in dumpsters and other dangerous situations,” he said.

Eby and the City of Penticton went through a public battle to get new supportive housing and shelter space in the city, but he said that wasn't a factor in the accident. Despite the timing, the man's death was not a result of the transition of shelter units from the Victory Church to the Compass House, which happened “seamlessly,” Eby said.

“But that is exactly the kind of tragedy we were hoping to avoid by prematurely closing the shelter before there was a new place to go.”

While the original goal was to close the shelter at Victory Church by March 31, “the city worked with us to accommodate that slight delay,” he said.

This week’s accident in Penticton reminds Eby of when several people died in the Lower Mainland after climbing into clothing donation bins. He said one short-term solution was to ban clothing donation bins in a number of communities.

“But that’s responding to the symptoms rather than the core problem, which is people living outside who are unsheltered.”

READ MORE: UBC Okanagan prof hopes students' ideas to retrofit clothing bins will prevent deaths

A “quick response” to getting people off the streets would be to open temporary shelters or buy an old motel, Eby said.

However, “the response to this needs to be the approval of desperately needed housing.”

While some rural communities in B.C. only have access to a limited number of developers, he said others have “lots” of proposals that local councils can be very slow to approve, if at all.

“That’s where the opportunity is.”

Eby said B.C.’s greatest rates of population growth are occurring in the Okanagan, the Lower Mainland and the south of Vancouver Island.

Last year B.C. got 100,000 new residents, which was the greatest influx in 60 years.

“I expect these trends to not only continue but potentially even accelerate, with the potential arrival of people from Ukraine for example,” Eby said.

READ MORE: The end is near for Penticton's controversial homeless shelter

Mayor John Vassilaki said he is really upset about the accident.

“Things like that shouldn’t be happening,” he said. “I can’t say enough about how tragic it is.”

Vassilaki added that everybody needs to be very careful when they’re near heavy equipment.

On April 5 the RCMP reported that the victim, a 52-year-old man, was suffering from life-threatening injuries, and then on April 7 it was announced that he died.

Interviews with Eby and Vassilaki both occurred before the man's death was announced. 

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