Costly legal battle with province over Penticton shelter does nothing to help homeless | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Costly legal battle with province over Penticton shelter does nothing to help homeless

The Ogopogo Motel in Penticton will be evicting about 40 residents by the end of July so it can be redeveloped, potentially increasing the number of homeless people in the city.
July 09, 2021 - 7:30 AM

An expensive legal battle between the the City of Penticton and province is doing nothing to a help ease the homelessness problem in that city.

The immediate focus is on a court petition launched Wednesday, July 7, by Penticton against the province and others over the ongoing operation of the Victory Shelter. The city is willing to spend up to $300,000 on the court challenge and the province’s costs will undoubtedly be in that range or higher.

“The legal fight – which I don’t want to comment on – doesn’t make our job any easier and it doesn’t make it go any quicker either,” Tony Laing, CEO of the Penticton and District Society for Community Living told iNFOnews.ca Thursday, July 8.

READ MORE: Penticton legal action against province could have far reaching impacts

The society runs the Victory Shelter and is named in the suit along with the property owner, B.C. Housing and the Attorney General.

“It appears that the best case scenario from Penticton’s perspective is that they spend $300,000 and increase the city’s street homeless population by 42 people,” Attorney General David Eby said in a written statement in response to the court action.

The number of homeless people in Penticton is likely to increase at the end of July, before there's any resolution to the court challenge. That's when the the Ogopogo Motel is slated to close for redevelopment, Laing said. He has no idea where the roughly 40 people living there will be able to find alternative housing.

Other older motels have already been bought by B.C. Housing or are slated for redevelopment, he said. They often serve as last-ditch affordable housing options in a market that is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

In the last month, the average price of single-family homes in the South Okanagan jumped by 23 per cent and condos by a whopping 55 per cent.

READ MORE: Single-family home prices in Okanagan take another leap upward

The Victory Shelter site was originally a convention centre for a hotel, Laing said. That hotel was converted into assisted living units and the convention centre was used temporarily by the Victory Church.

It sat vacant for years before Laing’s society took it over to use as a pandemic response shelter for the homeless during COVID. Last winter it was converted to an emergency winter shelter with a permit to run until the end of March.

While the court battle deals with the legality of the province overruling the city's refusal to allow the shelter to keep operating, in the end, the owner may have the final say.

“He does have redevelopment plans but, because of the pandemic, redevelopment had been put on hold,” Laing said. “There is no long-term plan for us to stay there. It continues to be a temporary situation while other options are being developed but, you can’t create housing overnight.”

In the meantime, the Victory Shelter is still running at maximum capacity with 42 people staying there. Those aren’t all the same people who first sheltered last winter since there have been 75 to 85 different people accommodated over the last few months.

The society has a total of about 300 units of various kinds of housing that it manages.

“We’ve got a wait list everywhere,” Laing said.

It looks like those waits are just going to get longer.

“As you build things, people’s lives still change and more people still become homeless,” Laing said. “The ability for people to move out of subsidized housing and into market housing is driven by good paying jobs and supports and daycare for their kids and those type of things. Just building supportive housing helps the people who need it right now but, if you want people to move on, there has to be something for them to move on to and you have to deal with the issues that created their homelessness in the first place.”

With growing housing prices, people converting suites into short-term rental units and the redevelopment of old motels, the future is grim for those agencies trying to help keep people housed.

“Most people with a decent job are still one pay cheque away from not making rent,” Laing said. “If you’re working in a minimum wage job, it doesn’t take much for you to slip over the edge.”


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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