Weeks after mulling its options, the City of Penticton has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court over a controversial downtown emergency shelter.
On Wednesday, the city announced that it was challenging the province’s decision to invoke paramountcy over the 42-bed shelter on Winnipeg Street.
Paramountcy is a little-used rule that allows the province to override local council decisions.
According to the city, when B.C. invoked paramountcy, it was “a unilateral move to operate an intended temporary winter shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street as a year-round facility.”
In November, the city reluctantly granted BC Housing a temporary-use permit for the site, with the permit expiring on April 1.
In March, though, BC Housing approached Penticton city council for a year-long extension, with council flatly denying the application.
The province then weighed in, with B.C. housing minister David Eby invoking paramountcy, which allowed the shelter to stay open despite objections from city council.
“This matter involves a community land-use problem and council remains united on the position it’s taken with the province since first learning of Mr. Eby’s decision to ignore the will of our community as it relates to 352 Winnipeg Street,” Penticton mayor John Vassilaki said in a press release.
“Council has listened and by way of polls, petitions and letters, thousands of residents have told us that 352 Winnipeg Street is no place for a shelter, and we agree.
“That is why Council denied renewing the permit and why we continue to oppose the facility, at this location. We hope BC Housing will do the right thing and close the shelter, adhere to the city’s bylaws and avoid the necessity of going to court.”
Prior to announcing the court challenge, the city said spending up to $300,000 in legal fees was approved, “an amount that was favoured by the community following an April community poll on the subject.”
On Thursday, Eby issued a statement to Global News.
“While I’m unable to comment on specific matters that are before the court, I’m disappointed to hear that Penticton city council is pursuing legal action against BC Housing and the charity that provides services to homeless people in Penticton,” said Eby.
“It appears that the best-case scenario from Penticton’s perspective is that they spend $300,000 and increase the city’s street homeless population by 42 people.
“We will continue to work with Penticton city staff to respond to that city’s ongoing homelessness crisis, despite this lawsuit.
“Our position has been, and will continue to be, that bringing people experiencing homelessness indoors is far better than putting them on out on the streets, without the supports and services they need.”