Penticton city council sat down on March 23 to address and receive the written confirmation that BC Housing would be going forward with overriding council to keep Victory Church open.
In addition to receiving the letter, a motion unanimously approved by council called on staff to work with BC Housing and the Penticton and District Society for Community Living on a transition plan for the residents currently in the Victory Church Shelter.
“Our council through staff, has provided BC Housing with many options for transitioning the people to a more suitable location,” said Coun. Katie Robinson. “Our council has reached out to churches, hoteliers, businesses and we have a long list of viable options.”
Robinson had further words for Minister Eby.
“Allow me to be very, very blunt. It is not convenient for the seniors who live beside this facility. It is not convenient for our business community. It is not convenient for the residents in this neighbourhood. And it is not convenient for Penticton. Shame on the government for suggesting that it is inconvenient to do their job.”
Mayor John Vassilaki also expressed his disappointment that BC Housing and Minister David Eby were going forward with their decision to override council.
Coun. Judy Sentes sought to dispel any assumptions that council is unwilling to work with BC Housing, pointing to the text of the motion from March 2’s council session where council voted to deny the request to revisit their initial rejection of the shelter extension.
“There are so many people who do not recognize the second paragraph, which directs staff to work with the city’s Safety and Security Advisory Committee and bring back recommendations to council on supportive housing and shelter location selection guidelines to ensure any future locations adhere to those guidelines,” said Sentes.
Her words were echoed later in the meeting by Robinson, who noted that council had not said they had been unwilling, and that staff had been hard at work on transition plans while council had been advocating for the services the community needs.
“It was this council who asked for an audit of these facilities in the first place,” said Robinson. “By warehousing these people without adequate services, all we’ve managed to do is produce nothing better than a legalized drug den in our community. It is not working, I think that is the one thing everyone can agree upon: it’s not working.”
Other councillors also noted that they remained willing to work with BC Housing, particularly in finding another location for the residents currently in the shelter to move to.
In the public question period, PDSCL director Tony Laing responded to concerns expressed by councillors about some aspects of the Victory Church shelter, such as the fencing that was put up around it as a mitigation effort done with city staff input.
“We worked with staff to come up with mitigation plans, to reduce the impact on the neighbourhood. We weren’t successful in removing all the impacts, but I think we have made a good effort to meeting all the promises we made,” said Laing.”We’ve had successes. Our successes don’t get talked about, but certainly, our failures do.”
Laing also corrected Vassilaki’s comments regarding how they’re paid, by noting that the PDSCL is not paid based on how many beds are occupied at the shelter.
Coun. Julius Bloomfield made a motion to send a letter calling on staff to enter negotiations with Interior Health and BC Housing for a long-term strategy for housing in Penticton, and called for both sides to enter into the negotiations in good faith.
“In a successful negotiation, everything should be negotiable. No one should be drawing lines in the sand, not us or the provincial government. There should be no absolutes when going into a negotiation,” said Bloomfield. “They may not change our minds, but they will not be able to claim our minds are closed, and all I ask is they do the same as well.”
Bloomfield’s motion was delayed in a 4-2 vote, with only Coun. Judy Sentes voting to oppose the delaying action, citing the urgency in needing a beginning to negotiations before the Victory Church shelter is supposed to be closed.
Following the two motions and the public questions, council adjourned to a closed meeting to discuss potential litigation.
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