British Columbia

Penticton won't allow emergency winter homeless shelter to remain open after March 31

Penticton city council has voted to deny B.C. Housing a temporary use permit to continue to run an emergency homeless shelter in the city past March 31.

Housing minister says Penticton will end up with a homeless encampment if the city closes the shelter

Penticton city council wants to close a 42-bed emergency winter shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street at the end of March, citing the location as 'inappropriate' and too close to seniors housing. (Google maps)

Penticton city council has voted unanimously to deny B.C. Housing a temporary-use permit that the agency needs to continue to run an emergency winter homeless shelter past March 31.

The decision was made at a meeting on Tuesday afternoon where the mayor and councillors discussed the future of the 42-bed shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street in the Okanagan city's downtown.

Upon hearing the news of the rejected permit, B.C. Housing Minister David Eby said he was "profoundly disappointed" and told CBC News he would do everything in his power to ensure that the people currently staying at the shelter do not end up living in a tent encampment.

The move comes amid growing frustration from Penticton's mayor and council over issues with the city's homeless population and B.C. Housing's three supportive housing projects. 

Penticton's mayor and city councillors expressed frustrations about dealing with B.C. Housing on the issue of an emergency winter shelter during an online council meeting Tuesday. (City of Penticton )

In late January, Penticton asked the agency for an independent audit of how it runs them before considering a fourth such building in the city.

And last month, Mayor John Vassilaki attributed the Penticton RCMP's heavy caseload and an influx of homeless people to the three supportive housing projects. 

'We made it very clear it was just temporary'

In October, city council granted B.C. Housing a temporary-use permit expiring on March 31 to allow the operation of an emergency winter shelter on Winnipeg Street to be run by the Penticton and District Society for Community Living.

The space was needed because the COVID-19 pandemic meant the existing Compass House shelter could not be expanded as a winter shelter as it was in previous years, according to a city staff report.

Earlier this year, B.C. Housing applied for a permit to operate the shelter for a year past the March 31 deadline, citing the need for more shelter space.

At its Tuesday meeting, Coun. Katie Robinson said the shelter is not in an appropriate location for a long-term accommodation, as it is in the middle of the city's downtown and close to seniors housing.

"We made it very clear [in October] that it was just temporary and I believe that it is incumbent upon us to go forward and do what we said we were going to do, which is shut it down on March 31," Robinson said.

"I think communication is so sadly lacking here with B.C. Housing that it kind of somewhat boggles the mind at times that they don't have any conversations with us whatsoever." 

'Profoundly troubling'

Housing Minister David Eby said he met with Penticton mayor and council twice in the past five weeks to discuss the issue and said council assured him it would grant the permit to keep the shelter open. 

Eby said it's imperative to keep the shelter open until B.C. Housing builds an additional supportive housing project — something he says the agency is ready to begin once it gets approval from the city.

"I cannot imagine a city council in B.C. in the middle of a pandemic who would think that is a good idea to evict 42 people from a homeless shelter into the nearest park," he said.

"This is profoundly troubling for me as the minister for housing dealing with encampments in two cities already and not particularly excited about showing up in Penticton with a truck load of tents for the people who are evicted by a shortsighted city council."

Eby said he will do everything in his power to compel Penticton to keep the shelter open, including using a procedure called paramountcy which allows the provincial government to circumvent the city's wishes.

"This issue has become my No. 1 priority, making sure that the residents in this shelter are safe and sheltered and also making sure that the residents of Penticton don't have to deal with what Vancouver and Victoria are dealing with right now, which is a large-scale encampment in the park."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan

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