The City of Penticton is seeking support from other B.C. municipalities in its simmering dispute with the provincial government over the operation of a controversial downtown shelter.
“On behalf of City Council, Penticton Mayor, John Vassilaki, has sent a letter to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) President, Brian Frenkel, requesting UBCM prepare a letter to BC Premier, John Horgan, supporting Council’s position that the Province’s recent use of Paramountcy is a violation of two Council decisions and the City’s zoning Bylaws,” the city said in a news release.
On March 2, city council rejected BC Housing’s request for an extension of its permit to continue operating a shelter at the former Victory church past March 31, when it was initially slated to close.
Council declined the permit, it said, because 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 emergency resources.
Housing Minister David Eby responded by saying the government was going to override council’s decision to shutter the shelter by keeping it open.
“After March 31, the province will operate the shelter under our provincial paramountcy authority authorized by the Interpretation Act,” Eby said at the time.
“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.”
Now that the province has made good on its threat and has continued operating the shelter without the city’s permission, the city is seeking support from the Union of BC Municipalities.
“My letter to Mr. Frenkel made it very clear that the issue at hand is a matter of land use and cooperative planning between two levels of government,” said Penticton mayor, John Vassilaki.
“Today our previous working relationship of bilateral cooperation has been replaced by a unilateral hammer that puts our residents at risk of having the Provincial Government plan our community. As such, Council has reached out to Mr. Frenkel and the UBCM membership at large to seek their support in reversing the Province’s conduct towards Penticton, or any other community they disagree with.”
The city also released data from the Housing Ministry that shows Penticton offers more supportive housing units per capita than any other community in the B.C. Interior.
Penticton has 234 units of supportive housing, which equates to one bed for every 143 residents.
By comparison, Kelowna has 486 beds, or one bed for every 312 residents. Vernon offers 97 supportive housing units, one bed per every 496 residents.
Meanwhile, the city has closed a public survey which had asked Penticton residents, in part, if they would support a legal challenge, which could cost taxpayers $200,000-$300,000.
The results are expected to be discussed at the April 20 regular council meeting.