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

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The new 3,500 hectare conservancy in Tahltan territory is located next to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (BC Parks Photo)
New conservancy protects sacred Tahltan land near Mount Edziza Provincial Park

Project is a collaboration between Skeena Resources, conservation groups and the TCG

Mabel Todd, 83, of the Nak’azdli First Nation, leads a group of family members and advocates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as they walk along the so-called Highway of Tears in Moricetown, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Province, feds fund full cell service along ‘Highway of Tears’ following years of advocacy

A ‘critical milestone in helping prevent future tragedies’ after at least 10 Indigenous women murdered, missing along the route

Erin O’Toole, Conservative Party of Canada leader, answered questions during a Terrace District Chamber of Commerce event on April 6, 2021. (Screenshot/Terrace District Chamber of Commerce Facebook)
Erin O’Toole discusses Terrace issues during virtual event

Federal Conservative leader answered questions during a Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce event

Easter is on Sunday, April 4, 2021. How much do you know about Easter history and traditions? (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: How much do you know about Easter?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz about Easter and its traditions

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Most Read