The project to convert the former Super 8 motel to social housing is going to public hearing, but not without a number of concerns raised by Penticton city council.
The property contains a 54-unit motel with a mix of hotel suites, traditional motel suites and a large indoor swimming pool. A major renovation will see it changed into Compass Court, housing for those in need of mental health services, suffering from addictions or in housing crisis. The property is also intended to accommodate the city’s homeless and emergency weather response shelters, a service that is currently operating at Compass House located downtown.
Coun. Helana Konanz was hoping the emergency beds were being added to the existing units, asking if the total number of emergency beds is increasing or decreasing.
“I believe the intent is to close the downtown Compass House, or reimagine that space for a different use and run all the emergency shelters out of the Compass Court,” said planning manager Blake Laven, noting that the downtown location shelters 16 beds and will be replaced by 16 in the new facility, along with 20 additional extreme weather shelter beds.
“The thinking also is that because there is going to be transitionary housing located on site, people won’t be staying as long in the emergency shelter. They can go to the shelter and then be given a long-term housing unit on the property,” said Laven.
Compass Court will be run by the Penticton and District Society for Community Living and the Salvation Army in partnership with Interior Health. Laven said they will be able to speak more about the planned operation procedures when they come to the public hearing.
Coun. Judy Sentes wanted to know if the project was intended to be ready this year, or next, concerned about the short time frame between now and November, when the need for emergency weather shelter starts.
Laven said if the re-zoning is passed, he thinks the intent is to start right away.
“I know the shelter is the first bit they want to do but one of the issues with Fairhaven was that they opened the doors before the entire project was ready to be occupied. It really created a lot of confusion for persons that were trying to access services there,” said Laven. “I don’t want to speak for any of the agencies, but I think the intent is to get it set up properly, get the security in place and the supports in place before opening the doors.
“It would probably be pretty ambitious to get that completely done prior to November. We will still have the downtown shelter; I don’t think there is any intent to close that before this new facility is open.”
Like the other council members, Coun. Max Picton said he was supportive of the concept, but wanted more information.
“I do have concerns, related back to some of the difficulties we have had with Fairhaven,” said Picton asking for staff to connect with the RCMP to see if they have seen a spike of incidents related to other social housing projects.
“I would like to know that the RCMP are actually supportive of this and they feel that any risk to the community and the neighbourhood can be mitigated in advance,” said Picton. “That is my only hesitation.”
Coun. Campbell Watt questioned why the site was chosen, echoing questions raised in the community about the high profile Main Street location.
Laven said he wasn’t privy to B.C. Housing’s reasoning for purchasing the property, but said staff found it to be a good choice.
“I think there is a lot of pluses to the location,” said Laven, noting it is separated from residential areas, close to Penticton Regional Hospital and easily accessed by transit.
“I think there is a lot of community support for social or supportive housing and the difficult thing is where do you put it,” said Mayor Andrew Jakubeit. “Everyone is supportive until it is near where they frequent.”
The Compass Court project will go to public hearing at city council’s Aug. 15 meeting.