‘That’s despicable’: Penticton mayor fires back at housing minister’s comments over homeless shelter

Click to play video: 'War of words over homeless shelter in Penticton'
War of words over homeless shelter in Penticton
B.C.’s minister of housing is vowing to fight Penticton city council after members rejected a BC Housing application on Tuesday to keep what was supposed to be a temporary homeless shelter open through the year. David Eby claims the decision means homeless encampments are now inevitable when 42 shelter residents will be displaced at the end of the month. Shelby Thom has more on the housing battle brewing in the South Okanagan. – Mar 3, 2021

The Penticton mayor and provincial housing minister are in a spat over the future of a homeless shelter in the community.

On Tuesday, Housing Minister David Eby called out Penticton’s city council for tanking the province’s proposal to continue operating a homeless shelter.

He said that if it closed, people living there could end up in a homeless encampment.

Earlier in the day, city council had unanimously rejected BC Housing’s application for an extension of its temporary use permit to continue running the 42-bed shelter on Winnipeg Street until March 2022.

On Wednesday, Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki denied that council was putting people out on the curb.

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“Every year, what BC Housing does is they put them out on the street at the end of March every year,” Vassilaki said. “This is nothing new.

“A minister of the Crown should never threaten the public of any municipality, especially the mayor or city council, that he’s going to come into our community and establish an encampment.

“He’s bullying and trying to manipulate us to do his bidding,” Vassilaki claimed. “And I will not be intimidated.”

Eby had said he would do everything in his power to prevent another homeless encampment in B.C., but added that he had 1,000 tents and 1,000 sleeping backs stockpiled for emergencies that could be moved to Penticton.

Click to play video: 'B.C.’s housing minister blasts Penticton city council for closing temporary shelter'
B.C.’s housing minister blasts Penticton city council for closing temporary shelter

The mayor has been calling for a third-party audit of BC Housing’s existing facilities in the community.

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“We need to know whether the actual numbers of what they’re saying, that are still homeless in the city of Penticton, is true,” he said.

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Vassilaki denied hanging up on Eby but admitted they’d had a short conversation Wednesday morning.

“I said to him, ‘Good morning.’ And he just wanted to go on and talk, he wouldn’t let me get in a word otherwise,” Vassilaki said.

“And I told him how disappointed I was with the comments that he made on Global (News) and the misrepresentations that he put forward.”

Click to play video: '‘Egregious’ crime rate causing stress, burn out'
‘Egregious’ crime rate causing stress, burn out

The mayor also said he told Eby that moving forward, there wouldn’t be any in-person or Zoom meetings.

“Everything is going to be done in writing so that there is no such misrepresentation in the future,” Vassilaki said.

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When asked if the people who are experiencing homelessness in Penticton will be caught in the middle of the dispute, Vassilaki replied that it’s up to the province to take care of the cause of homelessness.

“They have to take care of the source of the problem, which is addictions, mental illness and all the other things that that creates homelessness in the province of British Columbia,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Extended interview with Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki about homeless shelter dispute with the province'
Extended interview with Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki about homeless shelter dispute with the province

WATCH ABOVE:Extended interview with Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki, who is fighting with the province over the future of one of the city’s homeless shelters.

The mayor said that instead of spending millions on building homes, he wants to see the province use some of the funds to help cure people of their problems.

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“And they’re not doing that,” he said. “They’re just putting them in buildings with a roof over their heads.”

The mayor said he has a petition with 147 signatures from people against the shelter on Winnipeg Street.

The document says police activity, bad behaviour, littering, noise and loitering are some of the ongoing issues since the shelter opened.

Council had reluctantly approved the shelter on a temporary basis in October as winter neared.

Some of the concerns around the site include that it’s beside seniors’ housing and right in the middle of downtown.

Eby has said that if the province is not able to use its provincial powers to keep the shelter operating, it will ensure a homeless encampment is “well run.”

“To see a city council willingly flirting with establishing an encampment in their own city is astonishing to me.”

–with files from Shelby Thom

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