Penticton city council has unanimously shot down an application from BC Housing to keep a shelter for people experiencing homelessness open for an additional year.
The temporary Victory Church winter shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street will now close April 1 — when it was originally intended to close.
Council originally reluctantly approved the temporary shelter in October 2020.
City staff will now tell BC Housing and Penticton and District Society for Community Living (PDSCL) that they are expected to cease operations at the shelter April 1, 2021.
BC Housing had applied for an application to keep the shelter open until March 31, 2022, citing the need for additional shelter space due to COVID-19 as well as the general need for shelter space in the community.
Coun. Katie Robinson was the first to suggest the city deny BC Housing’s application in the council meeting March 2.
Robinson suggested it was important that council keep its promise to the residents that the shelter would only be temporary. Many residents in the area have voiced concerns about the shelter, including a petition with about 130 signatures delivered to city hall.
“We made it very clear it was just temporary and we need to stick to that,” Robinson said. “Communication is so sorely lacking with BC Housing that it somewhat boggles the mind sometimes.”
“I think we can probably agree this is one of the most inappropriate sites we have sever seen, right beside seniors housing, downtown, the list goes on and on… we did not get what we were promised from BC Housing.”
Coun. Julius Bloomfield echoed Robinson’s sentiments in that by closing the shelter April 1, the city is simply holding BC Housing to its original promise.
Bloomfield also said that determining proper location criteria for shelters is very important. As part of the motion passed, the city will also begin the process of identifying specific location criteria for homeless shelters.
As Penticton currently does not have an identified plan for shelter locations it can make it difficult for service providers like BC Housing, Interior Health, the Province, and others to understand the city’s expectations when selecting a location for a shelter or housing, said city staff in their report to council. The location criteria selection will aim to identify areas suitable for housing facilities for those experiencing homelessness.
Coun. Judy Sentes pointed out that many have asked why council did not suggest the former bus barn building on Ellis Street as a temporary shelter. According to Sentes, council did in fact offer this space but BC Housing said it would not work for them.
Coun. Frank Regehr voiced his support for the motion but was quick to note that the city still has a lot of work to do to address the homeless crisis.
“Unfortunately the motion being made is not a solution, and approving option two [extending the shelter] is not a solution either,” Regehr said.
The Victory Church shelter was first approved by council in October 2020, as a temporary winter shelter providing up to 42 beds for people experiencing homelessness as temperatures began to drop.
The need for the shelter came as Penticton’s permanent winter shelter at Compass Court on Main Street was not able to accommodate the usual number of people due to COVID-19 public health orders.
100 More Homes Penticton has estimated there is at least 100 people living in Penticton without access to shelter.