British Columbia

City of Penticton drops lawsuit against province, B.C. Housing over homeless shelter

The City of Penticton said it is dropping a lawsuit against the province and B.C. Housing, after the province announced plans to relocate a temporary shelter the city had previously attempted to close.

Construction for the province's proposed new shelter will begin in January 2022, if approved

The City of Penticton said it had received B.C. Housing's application to move the 42-bed shelter to a new location on 1706 Main Street, which it describes as "consistent" with the city's shelter guidelines. (City of Penticton)

The City of Penticton says it is dropping its lawsuit against the province and B.C. Housing after the province announced plans to relocate a shelter the city had previously decided to close.

On Wednesday, the city said it had received B.C. Housing's application to move the 42-bed Victory Church shelter on 325 Winnipeg Street to 1706 Main Street, a location they say is consistent with its shelter guidelines.

In July, the city filed a petition with the B.C. Supreme Court, challenging the province's decision to overrule the city and continue operating the shelter. As a result, B.C. Housing has been operating the shelter without a city permit, which expired on March 31.

The petition came after city council unanimously voted in April to sue the province. 

The 42-bed shelter is located near a seniors home, and lacks wraparound services for its residents in need, which have prompted concerns among residents. (Google maps)

They also voted in favour of an immediate closure of the shelter, partly based on a survey where more than 60 per cent of about 4,000 respondents said the shelter should be shut down, and the province shouldn't overrule the council's decision.

At that time, Coun. Judy Sentes said the council had 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 had approved $300,000 for the lawsuit, of which about $70,000 had been spent.

Mayor John Vassilaki says it is money well spent.

"It's probably one of the best things that's happened to Penticton," he said Friday to host Chris Walker on CBC's Daybreak South. "It's absolutely worth spending that $70,000 we spent up to date, because if we hadn't, we would not have been where we are now."

Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki says it is "sensible" to drop the lawsuit, now that the province is following the city's guidelines around a more appropriate location for the shelter. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

He adds that dropping the petition was not a condition for relocating the shelter. 

"It's the sensible thing to do to drop it, because now they're following the guidelines that the mayor's safety and security advisory committee put in place back in early summer."

On Wednesday, the B.C. government said it is proceeding with a proposal to build a new shelter. If approved, construction will begin in January 2022, with opening scheduled for March 2022 to coincide with the closure of the Victory Church shelter.

The province says the new location on 1706 Main Street will be operated by the Penticton and District Society for Community Living, a non-profit that owns and runs another 30-bed shelter as well as a supportive housing building on the same site.

The province did not mention whether the new shelter will provide wraparound services, such as on-site nursing and mental health counselling, the lack of which was another point of concern for the city around the original location.

"The city council is hoping that [wraparound services] is going to happen this time around, so we don't have the chaos in those locations that we had previously," Vassilaki said.

According to the statement, the province, through B.C. Housing, would fund the capital and operating costs as well as manage construction for the new shelter. 

With files from Daybreak South and Brady Strachan


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