The City of Penticton isn’t saying what its reply will be when it comes to the emergency shelter on Winnipeg Street.
In what’s been a tumultuous week regarding the controversial downtown site, the city issued a statement on Thursday morning, saying it’s waiting for BC Housing to officially state its position on the shelter.
On Tuesday, city council unanimously denied a request from BC Housing to reconsider its earlier decision to deny the 42-bed shelter a year-long extension.
On Wednesday, the province weighed in, with Housing Minister David Eby saying the government was going to override council’s decision to shutter the shelter by keeping it open.
Following Eby’s announcement, Global News contacted the City of Penticton for comment, with the city issuing a statement on Thursday.
“Concerning the extension of a temporary use permit allowing the old Victory Church property to be used as a year-round shelter beyond March 31, 2021, mayor John Vassilaki has sent a letter to BC Housing restating Council’s decision not to renew the current permit,” said the opening line of the city’s three-sentence statement.
“While the City of Penticton has been made aware of Minister Eby’s reaction to council’s March 16 decision, it is currently waiting for written correspondence from BC Housing formalizing their intention to continue operating their shelter.
“Once that correspondence is received, any future course of action concerning the Victory Church shelter will be publically discussed during a council meeting in April.”
During a teleconference with the media on Wednesday, Eby said “as underwhelming as it is, the message sent by council to the province has been received.”
“After March 31, the province will operate the shelter under our provincial paramountcy authority authorized by the Interpretation Act,” he said. “Out of necessity, we will also reluctantly move forward without Penticton’s municipal government in order to address homelessness in that community and avoid future encampments.”
Also Thursday, the issue was brought up in the legislative assembly in Victoria, with Eby and Prince George MLA Shirley Bond sparring during question period.
“Maple Ridge, Kamloops, Nanaimo and now Penticton,” said Bond, who is the BC Liberals’ interim leader and opposition critic for seniors’ services and long-term care.
“All of these cities have had their concerns about how to provide appropriate supports for those dealing with mental health and addictions ignored, and, in fact, steamrolled by this government.
“Yesterday, when the premier claimed he was ‘working’ with the City of Penticton, his attorney general was actually bullying elected officials in the city of Penticton.
“He has repeatedly insulted local officials and ignored their very legitimate concerns about the lack of adequate provincial mental health supports.”
Eby fired back, stating, “As minister for housing, when a municipality makes a decision to close an emergency shelter with 42 people in it and they have nowhere to go, what do you do?”
“There are two options. One is you ignore the issue. You let the city empty out the shelter into a local park and you hope that an encampment doesn’t result from it.
“The alternative is to, as the member says, and I freely acknowledge this, to use what are quite draconian provincial powers to override that local decision and continue to operate the shelter.
“There are no good options here.”
Later Thursday, Vassilaki spoke to Global News, stating council’s decision is “exactly the same as they were in the beginning of the month.”
“We’re looking after the interests of the City of Penticton, especially the residents of the surrounding area,” he continued.
“As you know, the City of Penticton is tourist-oriented and senior-oriented, and we have to protect both of those areas in our community, especially the seniors, who are terrified with what’s happening in the area of Winnipeg Street, where the shelter is located at the present time.
“It’s not anywhere near the ideal location for that facility to be there.”
Asked about Eby’s decision to override council’s decision, the mayor said he was “very disappointed and disgusted as heck. I just don’t understand where this minister is coming from.”
Asked if Penticton will legally challenge the province, Vassilaki said once it receives confirmation that the shelter will be staying open, “then we’ll be looking at our options in city council in the beginning of April.”
He also said “we’ll be taking action if necessary, but we will enforce our bylaws to the fullest. We will not back down.”
-With files from Shelby Thom