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

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.

RCMP cruiser, no date.
One man apprehended after high-risk situation in Ashcroft

Distraught man made threats directed at police, potentially had access to firearms

Janice Maurice, president of the South Cariboo Museum Society, and vice-president Peter Brandle, hope to see the Clinton Museum reopen its doors this spring. (Kelly Sinoski - 100 Mile Free Press).
Clinton Museum anticipated to reopen this year

Society board waiting to hear from province on health orders.

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Interior Health hospitals not strained by rising COVID case counts

While provincial hospitalizations rise, health care systems in the B.C. Interior remain robust, say officials

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Since April 4, 38 flights with COVID-19 cases have departed from Vancouver International Airport, while 23 arrived. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Vancouver the largest source of domestic flights with COVID-19 cases: data

This month alone, 38 flights with COVID-19 cases have departed from Vancouver International Airport, while 23 arrived

John Furlong, Own The Podium board chairman and former CEO of the Vancouver Olympics, addresses a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday November 25, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
John Furlong presents 2030 Winter Games vision to Vancouver Board of Trade

Vancouver and Whistler would remain among host sites because of 2010 sport venues still operational

Most Read