A grassroots project in Penticton that hopes to honour those who have lost their lives to overdose got a $3,000 boost from the city on Tuesday, June 7.
Gord Portman, a local hero who experienced homelessness and addiction for several years, made an emotional pitch to council for his dream to see a new bench built in memory of overdose victims.
Portman, who saved two lives in a 2020 Penticton house fire had planned to raise 100 per cent of the funds needed for the bench through community donations. That didn’t stop council, though, from immediately throwing its financial support behind the project that’s estimated to cost a total of $10,000.
“It’s a tragedy to our city, I think, that we have such a high level of death in this regard,” said Counc. Judy Sentes, who was among the first to donate to the project on Tuesday morning. “This will show our empathy and caring, I will definitely support this project.”
Council unanimously voted to kick in $3,000 for the new bench, an amount good enough to cover the costs for a concrete pad.
Portman says the corner of Marina Way Park, overlooking Okanagan Lake, is an ideal spot for the bench.
“It’s a perfect spot, a beautiful setting, out of the way and you can come here, cry if you want, think about the friends we’ve lost,” he said. It’s a location he himself had slept at when he was experiencing homelessness.
With the city’s contribution, Portman will be joined by Counc. James Miller in finding the remaining $7,000 for the project.
Miller recused himself from the decision, citing his direct involvement in helping make the bench a Penticton reality.
Portman, who personally knows over 100 people who have died to an overdose, including his bestfriend, hopes to raise the majority of the project’s funds with everyone who has lost a family member or friend to toxic drugs contributing whether it be $5 or $10 or more.
Council’s $3,000 vote was made possible thanks to a motion introduced by Counc. Katie Robinson earlier in the meeting.
People hoping to donate to the cause are asked to contact Portman through his Facebook page or by calling 250-486-0494 or by reaching out to Miller at 250-487-8882.