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Penticton, B.C., city council gives green light to emergency winter shelter

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Penticton mayor and council gave the go-ahead for a controversial emergency winter shelter to open near the city’s downtown core.

On Tuesday, council unanimously agreed to approve a temporary-use permit for the shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street, the site of the former Victory church, for a period of six months.

The conditional approval is based on requirements that there must be “appropriate” staffing and security on site 24 hours a day and communication with neighbours.

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The Winnipeg Street shelter can only open if all other beds in existing facilities within the community are full, and can contain a maximum of 42 beds.

Mayor and council delayed the initial vote at the Oct. 6 council meeting, citing concerns about safety, security and operator accountability.

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The winter shelter will be funded by BC Housing and operated by the Penticton and District Society for Community Living (PDSCL), which also runs the Compass House shelter on Main Street.

Councillors expressed concern about property crime in the area of the Compass House complex and the negative impact on nearby businesses.

During a Sept. 10 inspection, WorkSafeBC said PDSCL failed to provide a complete violence risk assessment for the Compass House location.

The inspector “was informed that some policies and procedures are difficult to enforce due to challenges faced by the clients that are housed at this facility,” the inspection report said.

Read more: Emergency cold-weather shelter is a response to ‘basic human good’: Penticton church

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Blake Laven, the city’s director of development services, says the new emergency winter 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 for Penticton “is critical.”

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No more than 30 people are permitted at the Compass House shelter due to 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 adviser.

Read more: Okanagan service providers scramble to shelter homeless as temps plummet to – 30 C

He said the Winnipeg Street site has already been converted into a COVID-19 emergency response centre upstairs in case a person experiencing homelessness needs a place to self-isolate.

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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.

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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.

The temporary shelter is expected to open in November.

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