Penticton’s Victory Church at 352 Winnipeg Street will be open on Nov. 1 as an emergency winter shelter.
Tony Lang, the chief executive officer of the Penticton and District Society for Community Living (PDSCL) spent over an hour answering council’s questions in their Oct. 20 meeting.
Despite reservations, council unanimously approved the temporary six-month permit. The owners of the property will be renovating in March of 2021, and it will not be possible to extend the usage of the location beyond that.
“What I’m hoping you’re seeing is not a common theme of lack of support, but a lack of enthusiasm for that particular spot,” said Coun. Campbell Watt.
Coun. Katie Robinson noted a report which said that Compass House has 20 additional beds, planned for emergency winter housing, but due to COVID-19, can’t be used.
“If the world gets back to some sort of normal, we’ll be back in Compass House, which will have another 12 units, plus the winter spaces back,” said Lang. “That’s always been our plan, it was never our plan to expand to another location, this was a pandemic response, and it always was.”
Mayor John Vassilaki expressed his own concerns, returning to his focus on responsibility that was brought up during council on Oct. 6.
“If someone were staying at the Lakeside hotel, goes down to the beach and causes a nuisance, should we hold the hotel responsible for bringing that person into Penticton?” said Lang. “Most of the time we see a homeless person it’s assumed they live in a shelter, but there are several hundred homeless people in Penticton, and we only have 25 living in our shelter.
“The only stick I have is to bar someone from staying at the shelter. Well, I only have 25 people staying there, if the other 100 are causing problems, until they get into the shelter, I have no stick. If council can explain to me, or someone, what control I have, I would really appreciate it.”
The mayor also sought assurances that the Victory Church location wouldn’t result in the same complaints that he receives from the area around Compass House.
Lang added that since Compass House opened, the widespread problems of discarded needles in parks and neighbourhoods haven’t emerged at the same level, at least on social media. The mayor challenged that, stating that council “gets all the complaints, not the public, we get them all.”
Despite applying for the full 42 beds at the facility, the PDSCL is only looking at filling 20 to 30 of them, with minimum two staff on at all times. Additional beds would require additional minimum staff, as well as extra staff during the day for other services at the facility.
In addition to the property being fenced off, as well as a cleaning crew for both Compass House and around the Victory Church, the PDSCL will be hiring security services for the two locations.
“We’re going to spend the equivalent of five full-time staff on just security on these two locations,” said Lang. “If we didn’t have to do that security, we could have a lot more people being supported to get off drugs, or to deal with their mental health issues.”
The Victory Church location in specific brought up further critiques, with questions directed to the potential for other sites, which Lang noted had been deemed unsuitable.
Lang was asked at multiple points if he felt that the facility would be enough to meet the predicted need over the winter.
“No. I’m here to be frank and honest; it won’t be enough,” Lang said. “We had 75 people at one point during January last during a really bad cold snap. … If we’re capped at 42, we’ll turn people away.”
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