As a debate over housing the homeless rages in Penticton, B.C., the provincial government plans to conduct a count of those experiencing homelessness in the Okanagan city on April 20.
The count was originally scheduled to occur in 2020, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seven other B.C. communities will see similar counts this year.
“Homeless counts give important baseline information on the estimated number, key demographic and service provision needs of people experiencing homelessness,” B.C.’s ministry of the attorney general said in a statement issued on Sunday.
“Once the counts are completed, we will provide the complete and final results to the communities where the counts were conducted. This data will include findings such as gender, age, Indigenous identity, racial identity, health conditions, service use and factors that contribute to homelessness,” the statement said.
The ministry said the results can inform the development of supports and services that will best help people in need.
It added that surveys will be conducted primarily by shelter staff and outreach teams, in partnership with Pathways Addictions Resource Centre, instead of volunteers, “to ensure that people experiencing homelessness will only be in contact with people who are familiar with safety protocols.”
The City of Penticton is locked in an acrimonious dispute with the provincial government over the operation of an emergency winter shelter on Winnipeg Street.
City council denied BC Housing the extension of a permit to continue operating the temporary shelter beyond March 31.
“Council declined the permit on several grounds, including that the shelter was originally intended as a temporary, winter solution only and, in the following months after the shelter opened in November 2020, had become a nuisance property negatively impacting nearby residents and businesses, lacked wrap-around support services and was demanding a high volume of Bylaw, Fire Dept and RCMP response resources,” the city said in a statement issued on March 31.
B.C.’s housing minister, David Eby, fired back, and BC Housing announced it will enact provincial powers to keep the shelter open, circumventing municipal bylaws.
The city is considering its options, which could include legal action.
Penticton’s city council has also called on the province to commission a third-party independent audit of the three existing supportive housing facilities in its jurisdiction, before BC Housing proceeds with opening a fourth facility on Skaha Lake Road.
The report on Penticton’s 2018 count identified 108 people as experiencing homelessness.