Penticton could soon have clearly defined guidelines in place, giving the city direction on how it handles new supportive housing units and shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
The need for the guidelines comes amidst heated debates between the provincial government and Penticton council over supportive housing and homeless shelters in the city, such as the shelter currently operating at Victory Church on Winnipeg Street and the supportive housing units set for construction on Skaha Lake Road.
In their monthly meeting Monday, May 3 the city’s safety and security committee voted to send the new guidelines drafted by Penticton’s director of development services Blake Laven to city council for approval.
The guidelines would see Compass Court, the city’s existing year-round shelter at 1706 Main Street, serve as the main shelter with other temporary “satellite” shelters being used as needed. The locations of all new, temporary shelters would need to be in an apporved area and have a maximum of either eight, 12 0r 20 occupants.
All new shelters would also need to be developed according to the BC Housing Shelter Design Guidelines. Those guidelines can be found on this page from BC Housing’s website under “Shelter Design Guidelines.”
Laven said he believes the city hasn’t spent enough time discussing Compass Court and its potential as a shelter in recent talks regarding homelessness and housing solutions. Compass Court has been limited in the number of people it can house due to COVID-19, but should eventually be able to open its doors to more people as society moves out of the pandemic.
Compass Court currently accommodates up to 30 people in a small shelter in the front of the former Super 8 motel building and has longer term supportive housing as well.
“It’s a large facility with opportunities for improvements,” Laven said.
The lack of foot traffic in the area as well as the close proximity to emergency services like the hospital are some of the main pros to Compass Court’s current location.
“It’s a fairly high profile location on Main Street but works overall,” Laven said. “We want this to be a well run site and everything in addition would be extra.”
Included in the guidelines were “buffer zones” where the city would not allow any new shelters or supportive housing units. These buffer zones would include anywhere within 150 metres from any school and Marina Way Beach, Okanagan Beach, Skaha Beach, Gyro Park, Lakawanna Park, Marina Way Park, Okanagan Lake Park, Rose Garden, Skaha Lake Park and the SS Sicamous.
The guidelines would also restrict shelters and supportive housing units from fronting Riverside Drive, Westminster Avenue, Lakeshore Drive, the 100 to 700 blocks of Main Street, the 100 to 300 blocks of Martin Street and Skaha Lake Road.
Abstinence based recovery facilities, such as Discovery House men’s treatment centre, would be exempt from these guidelines. Shelters that provide services for women and children fleeing abuse would also be exempt.
The supportive housing project set to be constructed by BC Housing at 3240 Skaha Lake Road would not be allowed under the new guidelines. However, the project will likely move forward as no guidelines are currently in place.
The site at Skaha Lake Road is currently vacant but BC Housing hopes to be finished construction of a 54 unit supportive housing project by spring/summer 2022.
The project will be based on the Burdock House supportive housing project which opened in October 2019 on Winnipeg Street.
The city has gone on record that it is against the location of the Skaha Lake Road project, saying several times that Penticton has more supportive housing than any other municipality in the Interior region.
The current temporary shelter at Victory Church played a big part in forming the new guidelines.
Coun. Robinson was in favour of the new guidelines but also made it clear that she believes just housing alone isn’t enough to solve the complex issues of homelessness, addictions and mental health.
“The missing part of the puzzle is the part that goes with the housing,” she said. “Council is going to keep pushing treatment and recovery… there needs to be more recovery based options.
Tony Laing, the executive director of Penticton and District Society for Community Living, the agency that oversees Compass Court, said he agrees that there is a need in Penticton for “dry” shelters where abstinence from drugs and alcohol is required.
Laing said Compass Court operates as a “wet” shelter because they are able to house more people that way and support people who are in active addiction.
“The number of people we’ve been able to save from overdoses has been quite high,” he said.
The guidelines for new shelters will now be presented to council in an upcoming meeting.