Lack of supports for Penticton's supportive housing sparks war of words with province | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Lack of supports for Penticton's supportive housing sparks war of words with province

Compass Court was the first of three supportive housing project earmarked for Penticton.
March 04, 2021 - 7:30 PM

Initiatives to help Penticton’s homeless took an unfortunate step backwards this week following several heated exchanges between Penticton city council and B.C. Housing Minister David Eby.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was a B.C. Housing request asking council to extend a temporary use permit to allow an emergency shelter to continue operating at the former Victory Church facility at 352 Winnipeg St.

Council’s refusal sparked angry words from the housing minister that were followed by an equally angry response from Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki and members of council, bringing homeless discussions between the city and province to frosty levels probably not seen before.

Former Penticton Mayor and current Liberal Penticton MLA Dan Ashton weighed in on the matter today, March 4.

He expressed concern over the recent communication breakdown between the two parties.

“I understand the province is trying to do the best they can to get as many people under a roof that is safe and secure, but in that was promised full wrap-around supports, and to the best of my knowledge, that has not been happening to the extent that is required,” Ashton says.

Ashton says the biggest issue Penticton has with its homeless issue is the lack of supports around mental health and addiction treatment. The city has no publicly-funded abstinence-based treatment beds and no detox facilities.

He says he fully supports that people need a roof over their head and a safe bed, but it needs to happen "better than it's been happening."

“More services need to be available. You cant’ just plunk these things down in a neighbourhood and expect everyone to be satisfied. We need to do this better. I understand why the City has some reservations about continuing on the path that’s been shown so far,” Ashton says.

The lack of supports has been an issue for city council, who initially praised the province’s first social housing projects, but more recently have become jaded about the path the province has been taking.

"Addressing the challenges surrounding safe housing for those in need is a priority that requires support from each level of government, along with various support agencies," Mayor Vassilaki said in May 2019 when Compass Court opened, the first of three planned supportive housing complexes.

Vassilaki said the opening of Compass Court brought “much needed housing for those experiencing homelessness in our community.”

But relations between city council and the province began to decline last summer when neighbourhood complaints began to surface around security, noise, drug use, trespassing and garbage issues around Compass Court. Council agreed to have the concerns looked into.

Councillor Katie Robinson said an original letter received by council from the Compass Court operator had promised on-site, 24/7 staff, in addition to ensuring an ongoing dialogue with neighbouring properties over issues of concern.

“Clearly, that’s not being done,” she said at a July 7 council meeting.

In October 2020, council approved a B.C. Housing request for a temporary use permit to allow additional shelter beds at Victory Church. The shelter was only to be used in the event the City’s other emergency beds were already full at Compass Court, and the shelter was supposed provide additional support mechanisms in light of concerns raised by the public prior to council issuing the temporary use permit.

In January of this year, council met with provincial housing authorities to discuss a new supportive housing project proposed for the city at 3240 Skaha Lake Ave.

A main topic of discussion at that meeting was public opposition that was already being received by council over the proposed project. Council requested a more comprehensive and community-wide engagement process before proceeding with the project, asking for a moratorium on the project until an assessment of existing supportive housing could be completed.

The meeting came on the heels of a council motion put forward earlier in the week to request a third party review of supportive housing projects in Penticton, “to determine if sufficient actions have been take to support those in need of housing and what impact these housing projects have been to the community.”

Earlier this week, council followed through on their promise to neighbouring Winnipeg Street residents, and refused to allow B.C. Housing’s request to extend their temporary use permit for another year.

That set the stage for the Housing Minister's comments earlier this week.

“I guess council was hopeful that on April 1 it would be warm and nice out and people could live outside quite happily," Eby said. "My opinion is when you add 42 people to the 100 people already outside in Penticton, you are rapidly approaching numbers where you risk large scale encampment in a park that cannot be moved by a court injunction."


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