British Columbia

Penticton council votes to sue the province over forcing it to keep a temporary homeless shelter open

Penticton city council voted unanimously Tuesday to sue the B.C. government after the province overruled the city's decision to close a temporary winter homeless shelter.

B.C. Housing has continued to operate shelter at 352 Winnipeg St., despite council's objection

On Tuesday, Penticton city council voted unanimously in favour of city staff's recommendations to immediately close the 42-bed emergency winter shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street, and to legally challenge the province's exercise of paramountcy power to keep the shelter open beyond the March 31 deadline set by the city. (Google maps)

Penticton city council voted unanimously Tuesday to sue the B.C. government after the province overruled the city's decision to close a temporary winter homeless shelter.

The Okanagan city council approved court action after hearing a staff presentation on two city-commissioned surveys of about 4,000 local residents regarding the 42-bed downtown shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street.

Council also voted in favour of an immediate closure of the shelter and transfer of all 42 residents from the shelter to other housing options.

More than 60 per cent of respondents to the survey conducted from March 31 to April 10 said the shelter should be closed down and the province shouldn't overrule the council's decision. 

Slightly over 50 per cent of participants said the city should take legal action against the province — which could cost taxpayers between $200,000 and $300,000.

Housing Minister David Eby, right, said in March the province may exercise the power of paramountcy to circumvent Penticton city council's decision of closing the temporary shelter. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Last month, Housing Minister David Eby said the province would exercise the power of paramountcy to prevent the shelter from closing down at the end of winter, as originally planned. The lease for B.C. Housing to operate the shelter expired on March 31, but the province stepped in to circumvent council's decision to shut the shelter at that time. The Crown corporation is currently running the shelter without a city permit.

Eby said at that time he was "incredibly disappointed" with council and predicted homeless people would move into the city's parks if the shelter closed. He added the province was preparing to face a court challenge.

Penticton's mayor and councillors are increasingly frustrated with issues they say are caused by the city's homeless population and B.C. Housing's three supportive housing projects.

Early February, Mayor John Vassilaki attributed the Penticton RCMP's heavy caseload and an influx of homeless people to these supportive housing projects.

On Tuesday, Coun. Judy Sentes said the council has no option but to take drastic action against the province, which she said had failed to recognize community concerns around the shelter's downtown location close to seniors housing.

"If the province could have continued their previous actions of consulting with us [and] joining in conversations with us, perhaps we wouldn't have come to this," Sentes said. "The city has no choice but to stand up for the betterment of our entire community." 

Penticton Coun. Judy Sentes says the council wouldn't have taken a drastic action against the province if the province had been willing to engage the council over the temporary shelter issues. (City of Penticton)

The council also approved city staff's recommendation to formally request Premier John Horgan's intervention in the dispute after about 80 per cent of survey participants said they supported that approach.

They also agreed to continue negotiations with B.C. Housing and to increase bylaw enforcement in response to nuisance complaints around the shelter. 

Tap the link below to hear Judy Sentes's interview on Daybreak South:

Penticton Coun. Judy Sentes speaks to Chris Walker about the council's decision to sue the province over its use of paramountcy power to keep the temporary homeless shelter open. 5:46

With files from Brady Strachan


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