A social housing project at the complex that formerly housed a Super 8 motel has been all but approved by the City of Penticton after going through the public hearing process relatively unscathed.
The proposal — a joint effort by B.C. Housing, local nonprofits and Interior Health — would combine social housing with shelter space and Interior Health drug addiction and mental health services.
During council’s public hearing, just one resident spoke out against the project, while another wrote in to disapprove and another wrote positively about the proposal.
Gordon Corner noted that he already felt unsafe in the neighbourhood, adding he was afraid to go out at night, adding that he felt the community wasn’t given a chance to mull the proposal.
“We have lots of crime going through our place, regardless of what the police say,” Corner said. “One car was stolen the other day. My car’s been broken into three times. Other people’s cars have been broken into. It’s a free-for-all. We never see the police.”
While Corner was the only to speak out against the project in council, Jayne Vasile wrote the city to express her own displeasure with the project.
“It appears to me you are trying to solve the unsightly downtown transient, drug addiction and mental health issues by relocating it to our neighbourhood,” Vasile wrote.
But beyond those two, the comments came mostly from nonprofits and government agencies in the community, all of whom expressed support a housing first approach, which suggests providing stable housing will pave the way for many to become independent members of society.
“I believe in housing first. I believe it’s effective with people and cost effective with taxpayer dollars,” said Ian Gerbrandt with 100 Homes Penticton and the Penticton and District Community Resources Society, pointing to a few examples.
He noted Journey Home in Saskatoon, which, according to Gerbrandt, decreased interactions with emergency services and similar services by 82 per cent for the people provided that housing.
Representatives with the South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society, Interior Health and the Penticton and District Society for Community Living also expressed support for the project. B.C. Housing’s Ann Howard noted a waitlist of about 300 people currently seeking a spot in the kind of housing that the Super 8 complex would provide.
“Forty-two more units is not going to meet the need in our community, but it will give 42 people a place to call home,” she said.
The city also sought input from the Penticton RCMP, which called for a few major standards. According to city planner Blake Laven, Supt. Ted De Jager called for adequate funding supports and security at the site.
“In this case, supports include things like medical attention, counselling services and other life skills training,” Laven wrote in his report to council. “Without ongoing funding and support, these environments break down quickly.”
Among the other suggestions, regulations on who can visit, how many people can visit and when, among other rules, along with ramifications for those who fail to uphold the rules.
He also suggested second-stage housing be in place for those who leave a place like the Super 8 so those who find themselves able to leave Super 8 don’t fall back to the streets.
Asked about police issues at Fairhaven, De Jager told the city there were numerous calls when it first opened, but that issue has reportedly dampened since.
But while only two people spoke ill of the project, the same number of councillors came out against it, while maintaining that they are in favour of projects like it.
“Everything is right about this project except for the location, in my opinion. I do understand the location is nearby to support services and the like, but Main Street is such an important street within the City of Penticton,” Coun. Max Picton said.
“Every tourist that comes through our town drives through Main Street, and my personal view of a vibrant Penticton is not gated off, supported transitional housing along Main Street.”
Coun. Campbell Watt, too, spoke out against the project, noting that the city wasn’t given much notice about the project.
“The property was purchased without any consultation with us, and then basically told, ‘we’re done, we just need you to approve it.’ And I don’t think that puts us in a fair position, to be quite frank,” Watt said, noting it was an “extremely hard” decision.
Council voted 5-2 in favour of the project, with Watt and Picton dissenting.