The Penticton United Church is erecting “no trespassing” signs and is demanding action to address homelessness and addiction as it grapples with increased drug activity around the church in the downtown core.
“We’re finding more and more that transients and the homeless are coming to our building and using our fire escapes as a place to hang out,” said minister Laura Turnbull.
“We notice that they are indeed using drugs. We watch them shoot up as we are coming and going. They leave their drug paraphernalia behind as they move on.”
The church is also home to the Playshare Pre-School run by OneSky Community Resources.
“We have a playshare program that operates out of the church and so it’s not safe for the little ones to have drug casings left behind,” Turnbull said.
The Penticton United Church is planning to erect “no trespassing” signs at the recommendation of police and city bylaw officers.
“We would welcome the opportunity to work with local government and organizations to try and deal with the current downtown problems in a more proactive manner,” said a news release.
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“We know that there is a housing crisis in town here, we know that too many folks are dealing with mental health issues, that are dealing with addiction issues, and our agencies in town are doing the very best they can but it’s just not enough at this point in time,” Turnbull said.
Turnbull recommends the City of Penticton and the Interior Health Authority (IHA) work together to open a supervised consumption site in the city.
A supervised consumption site is a legally sanctioned, medically supervised facility designed to reduce nuisance from public drug use. Individuals are able to consume illicit recreational drugs intravenously.
“We certainly know that in other communities, safe injection sites lower the risk for those who use drugs, that there is a better ability to keep the control on safety and that you can monitor the dosage with the drugs, so it just makes a lot of sense to have a safe injection site,” Turnbull said.
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Patti Skinner, chair of the Penticton United Church council, echoes the sentiment.
“It’s very sad, if they could have safe, clean drugs instead of buying them off the street.”
WATCH ABOVE: Penticton United Church minister Laura Turnbull says loitering and drug use around the church has increased substantially in the past year.
Anthony Haddad, director of development services with the City of Penticton, said IHA in consultation with B.C. Housing would be responsible for initiating an application to open a supervised consumption site.
As far as the city’s role, he said the “no trespassing” signs will allow the city to enforce local bylaws.
“For example, camping isn’t a permitted use for a lot of those properties downtown, so that will increase our ability to enforce that matter.”
Haddad added that two affordable housing projects are currently under construction.
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“B.C. Housing invested a lot of money and they’ve worked with the city on partnering on public land for the development of those facilities.”
From a policing perspective, Penticton RCMP Supt. Ted De Jager said the detachment has increased patrols in areas of concern.
He said a ‘Community Active Response Table’ is also in the works, which seeks to address those at the most elevated level of risk to get them off the streets and into housing and/or treatment.
“Homelessness and addiction are not crimes. The duty of the police in dealing with this segment of the population is to build relationships with them in order to transition them to the support they need to move into a less vulnerable lifestyle,” he said.