A property crime map for the month of March shows the hot spot for crimes is centered around the area where the Victory Church homeless shelter is located. (City Submitted)

A property crime map for the month of March shows the hot spot for crimes is centered around the area where the Victory Church homeless shelter is located. (City Submitted)

B.C. Premier asked to intervene in Penticton homeless shelter dispute

Mayor sends letter urging premier to reconsider Eby’s use of paramountcy powers

Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki is urging Premier John Horgan to ‘immediately intervene’ in the Victory Church homeless shelter dispute.

City council has sent a letter hoping Horgan will reverse Minister of Housing David Eby’s use of provincial paramountcy powers to continue operating the shelter on Winnipeg Street.

The shelter was opened as a temporary winter shelter to accommodate better spacing because of COVID-19. The city allowed a permit, reluctantly, on the condition that the permit to accommodate the shelter would expire March 31.

Eby stepped in and used provincial powers to override the city and the shelter has been operating ever since. Last week, Penticton RCMP said of all its calls for service to the four shelters in Penticton, by far the highest calls go to Victory Church. A crime map for March shows that the hot spot for most crimes is centered around the shelter.

The operator of the shelter, Penticton and District Society of Community Living, told the Western News that it will continue operating, following provincial direction after the city sent them a letter to shut the shelter down and relocate the residents.

The city’s next step if Horgan doesn’t reply to sue the provincial government.

Here is the letter from the mayor:

On behalf of a united Penticton City Council and the citizens they serve, Mayor John Vassilaki has sent the following letter to Premier John Horgan requesting immediate intervention concerning his government’s threat to invoke Provincial Paramountcy to maintain an unlawful temporary winter shelter in Penticton.

Dear Premier Horgan,

I am writing on behalf of the citizens of Penticton urging you to resolve the impasse between City residents and the Attorney General and Minister of Housing, David Eby. Penticton voters have expressed overwhelming support in two surveys for you to step in and work with City Council to correct the Minister’s handling of a temporary winter shelter located in the downtown core.

Penticton residents care about housing for those in need. The proof is evident from our past experience working with Provincial Ministers and BC Housing. Our city of 33,000 helps provide 1,906 provincially-funded units of non-market housing. This housing is the result of positive partnerships that reflect the very spirit of your own commitment to work with local municipalities.

However, under Minister Eby’s leadership, your government has changed course on cooperating with local communities. The Minister has misinformed British Columbians by inferring that Penticton is not doing its part in supportive housing. This is despite his own Ministry’s data indicating that Penticton has the highest number of supportive beds per capita in the B.C. interior.

Your government has been silent on the negative impact the shelter has had on vulnerable senior citizens, particularly on two seniors’ residences directly across the street. A crime density map shows that the shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street has become the epicentre for property crime in Penticton. This is a costly drain on police, fire and bylaw resources as well as being harmful to surrounding residents and businesses.

Your government has not been silent, however, on provoking and polarizing legitimate concerns. Minister Eby threatened to bring 1,000 tents and sleeping bags into the City when the shelter’s permit for lawful use in winter expired. It is odd that the Province’s top lawyer is silent on protecting vulnerable senior citizens from crime but vocal on encouraging Provincial action which directly inflicts such crime on those same senior citizens.

While there’s never a problem-free shelter location, integrating a shelter into surrounding neighbourhoods can be successful when Provincial leadership listens to the public and local concerns. Solving problems for one group should never bring harm or risk of safety to another. The goal should be to work together to find a better shelter location.

Penticton’s united City Council, along with thousands of residents who share our concerns, do not believe that your government is listening. We hope you will. We request your intervention to ensure the Province returns to working in partnership with Penticton and other municipalities to solve the housing issues. What may work in Victoria for temporary housing does not necessarily work for the rest of B.C.

As a start, please reconsider Minister Eby’s threat to invoke Provincial paramountcy to maintain an unlawful use of the shelter and instead direct BC Housing to apply solutions already suggested by City staff to find a better location, as Penticton Council requested in October 2020.

Respectfully,

John Vassilaki Mayor of Penticton