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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Penticton city council rejects BC Housing application to extend winter shelter permit

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An application to extend a winter-bed shelter in Penticton was rejected by city council on Tuesday afternoon.

In a unanimous vote, council said no to a BC Housing application to extend a temporary-use permit at 352 Winnipeg Street until March 2022.

Council gave permission in October for BC Housing to fund a temporary, 42-bed shelter on Winnipeg Street, though the keyword was temporary, with the permit only good until April 1, 2021.

In rejecting BC Housing’s request to extend the temporary-use permit for year-round operations until March 2022, councillor Katie Robinson said it’s important the city live up to its promises.

“We made it very clear at that time that it was just temporary,” said Robinson, “and I believe it’s incumbent upon us to go forward and do what we said we were going to do, which was to shut it down on March 31st, when it was over.”

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Councillor Julius Bloomfield added “we are simply holding BC Housing to their original promise to us and to the community.”

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According to the city, BC Housing funds additional shelter beds during winter, and that, typically, those beds are housed at Compass Court on Main Street.

However, due to the ongoing pandemic, Compass Court could not be used to accommodate the extra beds, so B.C. Housing identified 352 Winnipeg St. as a temporary location.

On Oct. 20, city council gave permission for the Winnipeg Street site to house 42 beds, along with security, though the permit was to expire on April 1, 2021.

City staff presented council with two options regarding the temporary shelter: Deny the application or have staff present council with a report for consideration at the March 16th council meeting.

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Staff said regarding site location, BC Housing or housing agencies don’t know where appropriate locations are to locate shelters or supportive housing facilities, and it’s thought that having selection criteria endorsed by council could help that situation.

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Staff said criteria elements could be items like:

Not within a certain distance of sensitive uses, such as elementary schoolsReasonable access for emergency first respondersClose to health servicesExclusion of certain streets for residents’ dignity“The idea here is to create a set of criteria that will help narrow down options for when people are looking at locating these services in our community,” staff told council during the meeting.

Robinson also said “communication is so sadly lacking here with BC Housing that it kind of somewhat boggles the mind at times that they don’t have any conversations with us whatsoever, and we’re placed in very uncomfortable positions in having no Plan B backup; we have to reluctantly go ahead because of the dire necessity at the time.”

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Robinson said the site was one of the “most inappropriate sites that we’ve ever seen, right beside seniors housing, right in the middle of downtown. The list just goes on and on.”

The organization that runs the shelter, the Penticton and District Society for Community Living (PDSCL), called council’s decision disappointing.

In an email to Global News, CEO Tony Laing said “PDSCL is very disappointed, and we will continue to work with all our partners to best support our homeless population in Penticton.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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