Penticton mayor and council delayed approval of a “critical” emergency winter shelter on Tuesday, citing concerns about safety, security and operator accountability.
City staff recommended that council approve a temporary use permit to allow for the overflow shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street for a period of six months.
Staff said the facility, at the former site of the Victory church, would have a maximum of 42 beds, “appropriate staffing” 24 hours a day, around the clock security and could only be used if all other beds in the community were full.
But mayor and council expressed concern about neighbourhood problems associated with the other shelter in town, Compass House, which is also operated by the Penticton and District Society for Community Living (PDSCL).
“I think the residents of this neighbourhood are already under siege, with all due respect to BC Housing, Compass (House) is not what I would suggest would be a great role model for another facility,” said Coun. Katie Robinson during Tuesday’s regular council meeting.
“It’s like once bit twice shot, and I think we’ve been bit pretty hard with some of the promises that we’ve had from BC Housing about how these facilities were going to be run.”
Mayor John Vassilaki added that he’s been inundated with calls from concerned citizens in regards to property crime in the area of the Compass House complex.
“You don’t know the amount of phone calls that I continuously get from neighbours, especially the seniors who get broken into all the time and they are terrorized, and that has to stop,” he said.
“I am kind of reluctant myself to approve this without guarantees from someone that somebody is going to be accountable for whatever happens in those locations.”
Blake Laven, the city’s director of development services, acknowledged the issues at Compass House, and suggested it may be due to the fact the site contains both supportive housing and a shelter for the homeless.
He said BC Housing is unlikely to repeat the model in town.
Laven added the new emergency shelter would “release valve pressure” off of Compass House, which is experiencing capacity challenges due to COVID-19 physical distancing guidelines.
BC Housing says in a letter of intent provided to the city that an additional shelter site for Penticton “is critical.”
No more than 30 people are permitted at the Compass House shelter due to the protocols.
“If approved, the Victory Church capacity expansion shelter would provide much needed beds that would be available to those in Penticton experiencing homelessness,” said Matthew Camirand, BC Housing supportive housing advisor.
He said the Winnipeg Street site has already been converted into a COVID-19 emergency response centre upstairs incase a person experiencing homelessness needs a place to self-isolate.
There has not been a COVID-19 outbreak among the unhoused population in Penticton and therefore the centre hasn’t been utilized, the letter notes.
Meanwhile, the ground floor has been transformed into a “one-stop drop-in centre that promotes enhanced hygiene,” the housing agency said.
BC Housing is leasing the site from a private property owner, who still plans to develop the land in the spring, including a self-storage facility and “significant” renovations to the building.
Penticton mayor and council decided to defer a decision to its Oct. 20 council meeting, and will invite BC Housing and PDSCL to attend.
Tony Laing, the non-profit agency’s executive director, declined comment on Wednesday.