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Penticton's emergency shelter surrounded by a fearful senior population

The breezeway accessing the front entrance of senior's residence Charles Manor in Penticton, with the front entrance of the city's emergency shelter in view across the alley at the other end.
March 28, 2021 - 5:01 PM

The verbal battle between Penticton City Council and the provincial housing authority over Penticton’s emergency winter shelter continued this week as both sides prepared for a new showdown next Thursday, the day after city council insists the facility at 352 Winnipeg Street be shut down.

The province reiterated its stance this week with letter to council it would use provincial powers of paramountcy to override council’s decision and maintain the operation of the shelter beyond March 31.

Council met last Tuesday to discuss a letter sent to the city from B.C. Housing, but did not publicly say what they would do should the shelter continue to operate as of April 1.

It seems, however, the inflammatory rhetoric has acted as a smokescreen to drown out the actual issue at hand –  the location.

City council has insisted since the beginning of the dispute the location of the shelter is inappropriate, claiming they have provided better alternatives to B.C. Housing, which has not been receptive to changing the location.

One of the biggest challenges of the shelter’s present location is its close proximity to a large population of Penticton’s senior population. The shelter is separated to the east only by a narrow alleyway from Charles Manor, an 84-unit retirement complex that shares parking space around the shelter.

Directly across the street to the west is the 63-unit Cherry Park retirement residence. South of the shelter is The Chancellor, a senior’s condominium complex.

To the north are the back entrances of several Nanaimo Street businesses.

There are only two single family homes in close proximity, slightly north and across the street from the shelter.

Few of the senior population in the immediate area of the shelter wish to speak publicly about their thoughts.

A resident at Charles Manor who did not wish his name made public for fear of reprisal said the biggest issue he had were shelter residents throwing garbage out as they left the building following an overnight stay.

“They linger with filthy shopping carts stolen from grocery stores piled high with possessions. It makes it very difficult for us seniors to go to the parking lot. We are jeered at and insulted for no apparent reason,” he says.

The shelter entrance is right at the end of a breezeway where Charles Manor’s main entrance is located. Manor residents have called police at 3 in the morning because late arrivals at the shelter are making so much noise.

“No one can seem to clear people away from the alleyway. We live in fear of being attacked by those who linger about and watch us,” the resident says.

As the weather has gotten warmer, there have been fewer issues, the resident added, probably due to fewer people using the shelter.

Laura Corbett says her mother, who is a resident at Charles Manor, is afraid to venture outdoors, fearful of the shelter residents.

“A lot of the residents don’t feel safe going outside. Those residents pay taxes, they are elderly and they have been there for a long time. They shouldn’t have to live like that,” Laura said.

She said she and her husband, Patrick, were visiting Charles Manor last week and were nearly pushed off the sidewalk and told to get out of the way by shelter residents.

"They swore at us, and said some really rude things," she said.

A man who introduced himself as Jason was waiting near the front entrance of the shelter yesterday afternoon, March 25. Friendly and talkative, he said he was waiting to see if he would be allowed back into the shelter later in the day.

“I was having lunch when everyone surrounded me. I guess they found out I was carrying a friend’s knife,” he said.

Staff found the knife stuck up Jason’s sleeve. He was ejected from the shelter.

He went to his case manager, who was following up on the incident with shelter staff on his behalf.

“Are you going to write about it - bad or good? It’s bad and it’s good,” he said, without waiting for an answer.

“I wasn’t meaning to cause trouble. I’m thankful for the shelter – it’s a godsend. It’s helped me and many others,” he said, adding he’d been using it regularly as he was from ‘down south’ and had nowhere else to go.

Penticton RCMP won’t release statistics regarding emergency calls to 352 Winnipeg Street between last November’s opening of the shelter and the beginning of March, but they do admit calls to the area have increased since the shelter was opened.

Penticton Fire Department statistics indicate the fire department answered 71 medical calls for service to the shelter between November and March.

Ironically, the one family on the block who should be the wariest of neighbourhood drug and mental health issues seemed to exhibit the most resiliency towards the present issues plaguing the street.

Perhaps it’s because they are aware of some things the rest of us aren't.

Echo and Frank Lyons live across the street from the shelter in one of the two single-family residences on the block.

They’ve lived there for five years, and for a good part of that time was right next door to an infamous Penticton drug house that was finally razed in November, 2019.

“I get where the mayor is coming from. It was a promise made that it wasn’t going to be open very long, but I get where the province is coming from, too. They need a place for now until something more long-term is established. That’s what the mayor wants, but he’s not seeing this. In my opinion, this could be the middle ground for that long term,” Echo says.

She noted council already had issues with a new long term facility planned for Skaha Lake Road in Penticton’s south end.

“The mayor should just read a script. I get where he’s coming from, but the wrong things just keep coming out of (his) mouth,” she said, referring to a recent comment by the mayor that “these folks could get rid of their addictions and mental illness, and make themselves somewhat normal."

“He (the mayor) really should not freelance,” Frank agrees, adding the only issue affecting his family was noise.

“We do have more people in our back alley and we have to ask them to move along. We have kids that want to play outside. Unfortunately, our kids do understand when the ambulances come three or four times a day, every day – they are understanding what that is,” Echo says.

The Lyons both said they didn’t think the shelter has changed the downtown area, pointing out their experience with the former drug house next door.

“If anything it has created a looky-loo atmosphere. People are slowing down, instead of driving 60 or 70 km/h, they’re slowing down to look around, which is great because we’ve got kids playing,” Frank said.

The Lyons said they had no issues with theft.

“They don’t come in our yard because we know a lot of them from before when the drug house was next door. There’s more noise, but that comes with the psychosis. That can’t be controlled, no matter where they are. Both of us feel for them, and for what the neighbourhood is experiencing,” Echo says.

Echo ends the conversation by admitting a bias, saying she’s seen the issues at hand with her work at the Friendship Centre, an aboriginal not-for-profit society that provides holistic and culturally driven programs and services for people of all nations.

"I see it every day, and what a lot of people don’t see is these people trying to be normal and do the best they can, and they are always hit with barriers. There are so many barriers, the stigma, the judgment right off the bat. They don’t want to be seen, and they don’t want to get help because it’s used against them,” she says.


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