I feel compelled to speak up in regard to the current battle between the Mayor of Penticton, John Vassilaki and BC Housing Minister David Eby over the closure of the homeless shelter at the former Victory Church.
During the 2018 municipal election, a main plank of my platform was that we need two things to move this community forward on issues of homelessness, addiction, mental health and crime.
Firstly, we need a “Made in Penticton Plan.” City leadership means engaging with all levels of the community from homeowners to renters to the homeless, from the business community to the not-for-profit community, from protection services to prevention services to develop a strategy on these important issues.
Secondly, we need leadership that takes this plan and advocates what is best for Penticton to other levels of government proactively. This council cannot act like it was blindsided by the request to extend the term of the shelter for another year. It has been more than two years since the election and it should have its own plan by now. This was an issue with the previous administration and the current one has not met the challenge before them.
At the same time, it is an irresponsible overreach by Minister David Eby to threaten to help establish a tent city in response to the council’s decision to not extend the shelter. This threat is not the answer.
The province has failed to provide the necessary promised wrap-around services to support our most vulnerable citizens beyond just providing housing. The city should be holding the provincial government’s feet to the fire on failing to provide holistic support.
This is fundamentally about a strong and effective relationship between the city and the province. Mayor Vassilaki has failed to establish that relationship.
Minister Eby is asking for Penticton’s plan. We all should be asking that question.
Rather than constantly being reactive to BC Housing initiatives, we should all be working together for common goals to fix problems of access to affordable housing and homelessness. It seems to me that, for too long, the City of Penticton has been focused on reactive response rather than planned prevention. How is that working out so far?
This isn’t the first time our community has made the news for short-sighted responsiveness to issues of poverty. If something doesn’t change about our approach, nothing will change in the outcome.
What I do know is that if the province is flexing its muscles and the mayor is breaking off communication, then we are all in a very bad spot.
No-one wins when battle lines are drawn and things are this adversarial.
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