Protesters call on Penticton council to 'right the wrong' and agree to keep homeless shelter open | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Protesters call on Penticton council to 'right the wrong' and agree to keep homeless shelter open

Around 100 protestors gathered in Penticton's Gyro Park Friday, March 5, 2021, to protest city council's decision not to renew a permit for an emergency shelter on Winnipeg Street.
March 05, 2021 - 4:22 PM

Peaceful protesters gathered in front of Penticton’s Gyro Park bandshell to let city council know how disappointed they are over a council decision that will see an emergency homeless shelter closed at the end of the month.

The protest involved a mock ’tent city’ to illustrate the possible consequences of council’s veto of an extension for a temporary use permit to allow the former Victory Church on Winnipeg Street to be continued to be used as an emergency homeless shelter. Invitations had been extended to the mayor and council, but several chairs placed directly in front of the Gyro bandshell for the dignitaries remained empty.

The only thing that wasn’t peaceful was the weather, as strong south winds threatened to blow about a dozen tents into Okanagan Lake this afternoon, March 5.

Around 100 residents, including homeless individuals were on hand to show their support, or tell a story about their homeless experience, expressing concerns the city continues to to lack adequate facilities for those without a roof over their heads.

Many of those attending the protest carried signs and placards carrying messages such as “Housing is a human right," “Food and shelter are necessities" and "Be supportive, not uncomfortable.”

Organizer Desiree Franz says she hopes the protest will help get city council to reverse their decision, or at the very least, change their minds about this population. She says 42 people will be displaced by the closure of the shelter on March 31.

Franz is frontline worker with people with substance abuse issues who are also experiencing homelessness, and describes herself as in recovery. She also oversees the Penticton Overdose Prevention Facebook page.

“I’ve never been homeless, but I have been one step away from it,” she says.

Franz agrees the emergency shelter was scheduled to be closed once the cold weather came to an end and says that is not applicable in this instance.

“Historically, that’s how it works. You have a winter shelter in winter, and then it ends. But we’re in the midst of a pandemic and you’re putting people with compromised health conditions out on the street. B.C. Housing agreed to continue funding that location,” Franz says.

She notes the City had offered an alternate location – the old bus barn building on Ellis Street – but it wasn’t suitable as it had no heat or ventilation system.

“City council has made a couple of bad choices but they have a chance to right the wrong by opening up the shelter. No one wants an encampment in the city, but it’s the safest option for the city’s homeless. There is less chance of theft or assault, especially for women. It’s the safer of any other choices given us,” she says.

"The mayor says he wants to do what's best for the community, let’s be honest here, he’s talking about affluent community members, because if he wanted what is best for people living in poverty here he wouldn’t have shut that shelter down," Franz says.

Attendees were reminded regularly to maintain social distancing and ‘care teams’ identified by yellow ribbons circulated amongst those attending to provide emotional support.

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