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

Hailey
Artist launches new business with help of 7S educator

Former school first client for Mystic Design owner Hailey Revolone, a Seven Summits alumna

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Tala MacDonald, a 17-year-old student at Mount Sentinel Secondary who is also a volunteer firefighter, has won the $100,000 Loran Scholarship. Photo: Submitted
West Kootenay student wins $100K scholarship

Tala MacDonald is one of 30 Canadians to receive the Loran Scholarship

First-year Selkirk College student Terra-Mae Box is one of many talented writers who will read their work at the Black Bear Review’s annual (virtual) launch on April 22. Photo: Submitted
June Hills of Trail won a big jackpot of $5,083 playing Bingo on Friday night with the @RotaryCommunityOnlineBingo on Facebook. Photo: Submitted
Trail player wins big jackpot in Rotary Community Online Bingo

Cards for regular games go on sale every Sunday

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Most Read