Support is growing for an independent audit of social housing projects in Penticton, B.C., to ensure supports and services are being made available to the city’s most vulnerable population.
The City of Penticton is asking the provincial government to fund a transparent, third-party evaluation of the city’s existing three supportive housing facilities before a fourth proposed development goes ahead.
Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki told Global News he is not convinced that people suffering from addiction and mental health issues are getting the help they desperately need.
“Our businesses are suffering, the neighbourhoods in the residential areas are suffering, crime has risen substantially,” he said.
A community group called 100 More Homes released an open letter supporting the independent audit.
“We are keen to identify that the homelessness serving sector has been doing outstanding work in this area for many years and despite that, we continue to see a high level of homelessness and need amongst our cities most vulnerable. This situation calls for change at the highest level,” the group wrote.
The group, which includes service delivery organizations, said 350 people have secured housing through providers in Penticton since 2016.
“Despite this number, we still see over 100 people unhoused and over 140 people on the supportive housing registry,” the group said.
“Therefore 100 More Homes welcomes the opportunity for additional and appropriate supports for the most vulnerable in our society.”
The housing advocacy group goes on to write that a collaborative effort is needed to address the homelessness crisis in the city.
“Action has, on the surface, been slow, and for the most part, has been left up to herculean efforts by community partners, to attempt to solve, rather than a strategic and coordinated approach with all relevant partners and stakeholders,” the letter stated.
“This has made it exceptionally difficult for Penticton’s not-for-profit organizations to provide a high level of support to our community’s most vulnerable.”
100 More Homes said it hopes the third-party review will lead to “significant provincial investments” in the areas of integrated substance use addictions, mental illness, and physical health supports.
The group is also calling for a centralized intake and screening process to enable the housing sector to provide the care required to the people who need it most.
Meanwhile, the board of directors of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce released a statement in favour of the housing audit.
“As an organization, we are keenly aware that housing has always been a serious issue in Penticton, and never more so than in the past year with the pandemic and its consequences,” the chamber wrote.
The business group said many of Penticton’s businesses have scaled back or closed their doors completely, with many jobs lost.
“We completely support the fact that there should be safe, secure housing available for all our citizens,” the statement said.
“But with an uncertain future, many of our member businesses have reached out to let us know that they believe some of the housing decisions made by BC Housing in the past few years may have had undue consequences to the viability of their business and the security of their employees.”
The chamber added that a third-party review would create more transparency around the supports and services that are available to the homeless in the community.
David Eby, B.C.’s housing minister, was non-committal about supporting an independent audit when asked for comment by Global News.
“Certainly, I think BC Housing can be trusted to do community engagement. It does a very good job of community engagement, it presents information factually — I’ve never heard any concerns about that, good or bad, but we will figure something out with Penticton,” Eby said.
Eby has met with city officials on at least one occasion to discuss the potential for a housing review.