Penticton city council says no to emergency shelter extension | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Penticton city council says no to emergency shelter extension

Penticton city council refused to blink in their decision not to allow an emergency winter shelter to continue operating beyond March 31, 2021 at today's council meeting, March 16, 2021.
March 16, 2021 - 3:53 PM

Penticton city council weighed in on B.C. Housing’s request for reconsideration of council's decision to close the emergency winter shelter at a former church today.

A letter from B.C. Housing included a threat to overturn council’s decision should they fail to do so themselves by yesterday, March 15.

Councillor Katie Robinson made a motion this afternoon, March 16, to receive the B.C. Housing correspondence and deny the request to allow the winter shelter at 352 Winnipeg St. to continue for another year.

Council reaction remained steadfast in their support of its initial decision not to allow the shelter to continue operating, noting the large population of vulnerable seniors who live nearby.

“We have a duty to all our citizens. These wrap around services we were promised continue to be non-existent,” Robinson said, adding emergency services personnel were "starting to buckle under all this pressure.”

Councillor Judy Sentes wondered if B.C. Housing had been aware of the three seniors housing complexes that surrounded the emergency shelter.

“The wraparound services, the way we are going, aren’t following the housing,” Sentes said. “To those in our community, I cannot tell you how many hours we have spent in conversation, trying to find the best solution, but the first step in that, 352 Winnipeg St. is not the answer. We gave (B.C. Housing) enough time that a solution could have been found. Saying ’no’ again, I will re-affirm we are open to continuing conversation and looking to help these people."

Councillor Julius Bloomfield said he believed council’s decision had the support of the majority of the community. He said there was a need to get back to the table, suggesting it wasn’t the place of politicians.

“The City has always been a willing partner in trying to find a solution to the homeless issue in Penticton. I don’t want the City to become a battleground for the homeless, rather I would like to see it become the model,” Bloomfield said, adding he would possibly consider a two-month delay in closing the shelter if there was a chance for a plan to be in place.

City planner Blake Laven said it wasn’t normally a City mandate to look after transitioning of homeless residents. He noted the emergency shelter was originally needed because of distancing restrictions at the Compass Court permanent shelter because of COVID-19.

However, those residents were now part of the current vaccination campaign, and there might be renewed opportunities to shelter the displaced residents at Compass Court.

Mayor John Vassilaki called council’s handling of the issue “magnificent.”

“I’ve never been as proud of city council as I am at the present time, for the way they expressed to not only the media, but the public and the province how our community feels about this situation,” he said, his voice trembling.

Vassilaki said the province was considering spending $1.7 million on the Winnipeg Street emergency shelter, breaking the cost down to $40,000 per resident.

“If they were going to take this $40,000 per resident and put it into Riverview, just think how much good they could do for these folks?" he said. "Maybe they could get rid of their addictions and mental illness, and make them somewhat normal, so they can live a better life and maybe help others instead of having to be helped themselves."

Council agreed unanimously against reconsideration of the original motion to close the temporary winter shelter at 352 Winnipeg St. on March 31.

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