Penticton shelter will remain open despite city's objection, says B.C. Housing Minister David Eby

·3 min read
B.C. Housing Minister David Eby said Wednesday the province will exercise the power of paramountcy to keep an emergency winter shelter open at 352 Winnipeg St. in Penticton, although city council has voted twice to reject the shelter's continued operation. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)
B.C. Housing Minister David Eby said Wednesday the province will exercise the power of paramountcy to keep an emergency winter shelter open at 352 Winnipeg St. in Penticton, although city council has voted twice to reject the shelter's continued operation. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)

The B.C. government plans to circumvent a decision by Penticton city council that prevents a temporary winter homeless shelter from staying open past March 31.

On Tuesday, the Okanagan city council voted unanimously to decline B.C. Housing's request for continued operation of the 42-bed shelter at 352 Winnipeg St., two weeks after it first voted to turn down the same proposal.

The council granted B.C. Housing a temporary-use permit in October to run the shelter, but has refused the agency's application to extend the permit for a year past the March 31 deadline, due to community concerns around the shelter's downtown location close to seniors housing.

Housing Minister David Eby said in a media scrum Wednesday that he is "incredibly disappointed" by the council's decision, and will exercise the power of paramountcy to make provincial interests prevail over the municipal ones.

"The vote [Tuesday] sends a very unambiguous message from city council to the province that they're not interested in working with us on the challenging and difficult issue of homelessness in Penticton," he said. "I still am willing to work with Penticton council, but clearly we won't be waiting any longer."

Penticton city council wants to close a 42-bed emergency winter shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street at the end of March, citing the location as 'inappropriate' and too close to seniors housing.
Penticton city council wants to close a 42-bed emergency winter shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street at the end of March, citing the location as 'inappropriate' and too close to seniors housing.(Google maps)

Eby also said the province will move forward with B.C. Housing's plan to build Penticton's fourth supportive housing building on Skaha Lake Road — after Burdock House, Fairhaven and Compass Court — under the paramountcy doctrine.

The province's move comes as Penticton's mayor and councillors are increasingly frustrated with issues caused by the city's homeless population and B.C. Housing's three supportive housing projects.

Early last month, Mayor John Vassilaki attributed the Penticton RCMP's heavy caseload and an influx of homeless people to these supportive housing projects.

Vassilaki told CBC News the City of Penticton may consider challenging the provincial paramountcy in court, and he will discuss with the council what actions to take in the next meeting.

Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki says the city may consider going to court to challenge the province's decision to keep the shelter open.
Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki says the city may consider going to court to challenge the province's decision to keep the shelter open.(Ben Nelms/CBC)

Eby says he hasn't talked to Vassilaki since the mayor indicated unwillingness to engage with the province. He argues that the province is on a firm legal ground to overrule the city's wills.

"We're preparing for [the] worst case scenarios where the use of the shelter is in fact challenged in court, either by a neighbour or by Penticton council themselves," Eby said.

Coun. Julius Bloomfield says meanwhile the city has found spaces from churches and motels to accommodate the 42 people who may have to leave the Winnipeg Street shelter after March 31.

"We're offering alternatives, which is our position [that] has always been," Bloomfield said Wednesday to Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South. "Let's not concentrate on more fighting. Let's just concentrate on finding solutions."

Tap the link below to hear Julius Bloomfield's interview on Daybreak South: