Why is Penticton pushed to keep emergency shelter open while other shelters close? | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why is Penticton pushed to keep emergency shelter open while other shelters close?

The province continued its battle with Penticton city council following council's decision to close the emergency winter shelter at 352 Winnipeg St. this week, saying they will overrule council if the decision isn't reversed by March 15.
March 12, 2021 - 6:00 AM

Penticton city council is standing resolute on its decision to shutter the emergency winter shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street in spite of an ultimatum issued by the province.

Council said no March 2 to a request from B.C. Housing to renew a temporary use permit beyond March 31 for the 42-bed emergency winter shelter in the old Victory Church building at 352 Winnipeg Street.

The decision raised the ire of B.C. Minister responsible for housing, David Eby and a resulting war of words advanced to action this week with a letter to the city from B.C. Housing CEO Shane Ramsey.

Ramsey says Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki “indicated support” for a renewal of the temporary use permit at a meeting on Feb. 3, prompting an application to extend the permit from B.C. Housing the next day.

City councillor Julius Bloomfield says council received the letter March 8. It requested a reply with respect to council reversing its decision on the matter by March 15, next Monday.

If council refuses to comply, the matter could be subject to provincial ‘paramountcy’ options that would allow the province to override council’s decision.

Bloomfield said the request would mean holding a special council meeting to discuss it, as the next regularly scheduled meeting isn’t until March 16.

Bloomfield didn’t say whether a meeting was being planned to talk about the request.

The councillor says he recently went on the B.C. Housing website and noticed 35 winter shelters across the province were scheduled to close on March 31.

“One wonders why Penticton’s decision, which was previously agreed upon, is being targeted in such a manner,” he says.

Bloomfield says council issued the permit to operate based on B.C. Housing’s original submission that agreed to a March 31 shutdown. He says council has been willing to talk about a permanent seasonal shelter.

The city already has a permanent emergency shelter at Compass Court.

“The one-year extension wasn’t part of the submission. In fact, we have it in writing from B.C. Housing they wouldn’t be applying for an extension,” Bloomfield says.

He says council’s concerns about the shelter are a reflection of the concerns of citizens of Penticton and the neighbourhood around the shelter.

Two large retirement residences are in the immediate vicinity of the shelter, Charles Manor, located right behind the shelter, and Cherry Park, right across the street.

"Nobody who is complaining is ignorant or dismissive of the needs of these people. Everybody, including everyone on council acknowledges we should be doing something — we aren’t turning our backs and shutting it down. We are willing to commit to working with B.C. Housing and Interior Health to find a suitable location,” Bloomfield said.

Coun. Katie Robinson agrees.

“I have personally received so many complaints that I’ve lost count,” she said, adding suggestions that council doesn’t care about homeless issues aren't true. "We care deeply, and if you check the ratio of homeless shelters-supportive housing between Penticton and any other community in B.C., you will find we have provided more than anyone else in B.C.”

Robinson says the nature of the majority of complaints are centred around people feeling uncomfortable or threatened.

There are also complaints about excessive garbage in the area, transients ‘camping out,’ public urination and defecation.

Penticton RCMP Supt. Brian Hunter says the RCMP does not provide statistics related to specific addresses, or city blocks.

“I can tell you that our calls for service in the area have increased since the opening of the emergency shelter on Winnipeg Street,” he says.

Penticton Fire Department spokesperson Ken Barbour says the fire department responded to 71 medical calls for service to 352 Winnipeg Street between Nov. 1, 2020 and March 8, 2021.

City of Penticton executive assistant Cheryl Hardisty says over the two-week period before and after council’s initial decision to allow the temporary use permit on Oct. 20, 2020, and over another two-week period before and after their decision not to renew the permit on March 2, the council received 60 letters of support for their stance and 23 that were critical.

The B.C. Housing ministry said in an emailed statement Penticton shelters have been operating at full capacity and the ministry saw a need in the community for shelter for an additional 166 people.

"Closing this shelter would mean an additional 42 people sleeping on the streets or in local parks every night. In the case of Penticton, we are acutely aware there is a need for this shelter to remain open, beyond the March 31 date, as there are no other shelter options in Penticton,” the ministry spokesperson said.

B.C. Housing will provide an update to the public soon regarding use of the former Victory Church site and a shelter solution to Penticton.

The ministry said in the longer term it would attempt to purchase an appropriate site to build the housing in Penticton that is necessary.

"While the City has not yet brought forward other suggested locations to open a shelter in the City, we are more than happy to work with them on alternate location options,” the ministry spokesperson said in an email this afternoon, March 11.

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