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

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

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
67 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty people in the region are hospitalized with the virus, 11 of whom are intensive care

An animal carrier full of bullet holes and containing a dead animal was found near Castlegar. Photo: Colleen Schwartz
Castlegar woman finds dead animal inside carrier riddled with bullet holes

The remains were discovered near Syringa Creek Provincial Park

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
211 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

Currently, there are 875 active cases of the virus in the region

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. As of April 19, more than 230,000 doses have been administered across the Interior Health region. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
More than 230K doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered across Interior Health

A total of 220,216 first doses and 13,775 second doses have been given to residents across the B.C. Interior

Four homes in Johnson Flats were at serious risk of falling into a neighbourhood section of the Kettle River, according to capital project manager Justin Dinsdale. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks shields riverside homes against erosion

Crews have built a modified dike along a section of the Kettle River in Johnson Flats

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

The IIO is investigating after a police dog bit a man during a traffic stop near Ladysmith on April 17, 2021. (Black Press Media stock photo)
Man arrested in incident at Canada-U.S. border near Roosville

A man who crossed the border illegally was apprehended by U.S. officials

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read