Penticton’s Victory Church is staying open as a winter shelter, whether it has the support of Penticton council or not.
Minister David Eby, responsible for housing, reiterated the points expressed in the letter from BC Housing to council, and that the province would be keeping the shelter operational until housing is available.
“What’s not really up for debate is whether or not the shelter continues operating,” said Eby. “We need those people to stay sheltered and not move into the park.
“It’s really one last chance and one final hope, from my perspective, that we can work together on this still.”
The shelter has 42 beds, which are currently fully occupied, housing a chunk of the street homeless, which stands at over 160, according to Eby.
The province is determined to avoid a homeless encampment in Penticton, after seeing the difficulty other communities faced, including Maple Ridge.
Maple Ridge was the most recent community that the provincial government had used the paramountcy powers available to them to override the municipality and push forward with a supportive housing project the municipality didn’t want.
Without a city’s support, the province can move faster on a project, however, Eby admitted that it comes at the price of local knowledge and support.
“My operating philosophy is that we’re better off if we’re working with the local government. The solutions that we’re going to get are more responsive to local conditions, there’s more community buy-in and there’s less tension when the facilities are opened.”
One of the issues between the council and province is a lack of communication, as Eby said has not spoken with Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki since March 3, when Eby said the mayor hung up on him.
“My phone’s on and my door is always open for Penticton to walk through, and I look forward to talking with them, but we’ll see,” said Eby.
With the shelter, the plan is still to have the supportive housing project on Skaha Lake Road finished, after which point the people currently in Victory Church would be moved out of the shelter and into the supportive housing.
“It is my understanding that we could potentially have that site up and running within a year,” said Eby.
The property was bought and is owned by BC Housing, and if necessary, Eby is prepared to use the paramountcy powers to push past not receiving a building permit from the city council.
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