BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)

‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

BC Housing minister David Eby is warning of a potential homeless encampment in Penticton after city council rejected a request to keep a temporary winter shelter open for an additional year.

Eby addressed local media on a conference call Wednesday (March 3). The minister said he is “profoundly disapointed and a bit baffled” by council’s decision to vote to close the emergency winter shelter at Victory Church’s old 352 Winnipeg Street location.

The shelter is currently at capacity, providing beds for 42 people with more trying to get in.

READ MORE: Penticton council denies extension of downtown homeless shelter

Eby said he called Penticton mayor John Vassilaki to find out the logic behind council’s decision this morning but was hung up on.

“Unfortunately when we connected this morning he hung up on me and told me that we wouldn’t be speaking,” Eby said. “This is a very difficult situation and bluntly, in my opinion, I’m frightened for the leadership within in Penticton.”

Vassilaki said he did speak briefly with Eby this morning but was only given ten minutes to speak and was repeatedly interrupted, leading the mayor to end the call.

Eby is concerned closing the shelter April 1 will force 42 people into the streets and ultimately create a homeless encampment similar to what the province is seeing in Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo.

The pandemic has exacerbated the homelessness issue across the province.

The minister said he will do everything possible to prevent a homeless encampment from popping up in Penticton; but, if an encampment does become established, BC Housing will step in to monitor it and has 1,000 tents and sleeping bags available.

Speaking to the importance of preventing an encampment, Eby referenced the time and money spent responding to encampments in Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo that have led to “explosions, fires, deaths, and other very serious and troubling incidents” for people living in the encampment and in the nearby areas.

Vassilaki does not believe a homeless encampment will become established in Penticton. The mayor called Eby’s comments “irresponsible” and claimed Eby was “fear-mongering”. Vassilaki also insisted that he and council didn’t create a problem by denying the application from BC Housing.

The mayor pointed to last April when winter shelters closed yet no encampment was established.

“We didn’t create no emergency (sic),” he said. “The emergency was created by BC Housing by coming forward with an extension without a plan in place.”

To prevent the Victory Church shelter from closing down, Eby may utilize the provincial government’ statutory immunity, which would give them power to exempt themselves from local government rules.

However, because BC Housing does not own the Victory Church shelter, using statutory immunity could be problematic if BC Housing is taken to court by Penticton council or an upset resident.

“I want to ensure people in the shelter and people nearby that despite the fact we don’t have another site for people to go we are working very hard to identify another site where we can use Paramount C (statutory immunity).

“In the interim we may be forced into a situation with an encampment and that is the worst case scenario.”

Eby struggled to find the words to express his disappointment in Penticton council. He said other cities across the province have been willing to work on establishing housing solutions, especially during the pandemic when support services are at a minimum.

Since taking the job as housing minister in November, 2020, Eby says he has spent more time speaking with Penticton council than any other city that doesn’t have an active encampment.

“We simply can’t have a situation of another encampment in the province that’s deliberately created,” he said. “We can’t afford to go backwards in Penticton.”

Eby also attempted to debunk the view that the majority of homeless people in Penticton have come from out of town. A view that mayor Vassilaki and councillors have expressed in the past.

Approximately 80 percent of Penticton’s homeless population have lived in the city for more than five years, Eby said.

“This is a Penticton issue and it’s one that the province really wants to help Penticton solve.”

READ MORE: Penticton’s Victory Church to become temporary emergency winter shelter



jesse.day@pentictonwesternnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Housing and Homelessness

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fire crews battle a large wildfire north of Highway 1 east of the Yale Road West exit on Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Firefighters battle wildfire in Chilliwack near Hwy 1

Helicopter dropping water on large wildfire in Chilliwack near Yale Road West exit, north of highway

web
Fire breaks out inside Mission Walmart

Customers, staff evacuated as firefighters investigate

Japanese Canadian citizens being transferred into waiting trucks outside Hope Station House. NNMCC L2021-2-1-004. Photographs courtesy of the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre
Fight continues for historic Hope Station House

Ombudsman report and stop work order come alongside district’s move to remove heritage status

Lift equipment is driven away from a fire in an adjacent unit on Industrial Way in Chilliwack on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack firefighters deal with heavy smoke, extreme heat in challenging industrial fire

Crews successful in containing fire to 1 unit in industrial building, adjacent units suffer smoke damage

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)
Final witness will extend Langley child murder trial into May or June

Lengthy trial began last autumn with COVID and other factors forcing it to take longer than expected

The corner of 96th Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley now has traffic signals, and new “touchless” signal activation buttons. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Busy Fort Langley intersection gets ‘touchless’ crosswalk signals

The new traffic light started operation in April

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

Dr. Bonnie Henry – in a B.C. health order that went into effect April 12 – granted WorkSafe inspectors the power to enforce workplace closures with COVID-19 spread. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
24 workplace closures being enforced in Fraser Health under new COVID-19 order

WorkSafe inspectors the power to enforce closures if COVID-19 has spread to 3 or more employees

Maple Ridge Fire and Rescue were conducting training operations at Gold Creek Falls when a firefighter broke their leg. (Eileen Robinson photo - Special to The News)
Firefighter suffers broken leg during swift water rescue practice in Golden Ears park

A training exercise at Maple Ridge waterfall on Wedesday results in mishap

Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 91, is disappointed the Legion does not qualify for COVID financial assistance from the provincial government. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C.’s pandemic aid package passing Legion branches by

Federal non-profit status stymies provincial assistance eligibility

Most Read