A group of Penticton residents have planned a protest to voice their concerns over city council’s refusal to allow a temporary winter shelter to stay open.
The Victory Church winter shelter at 352 Winnipeg Street in downtown Penticton was originally approved by council to continue its operations on an emergency basis until April 1, 2021.
Due to a lack of alternative housing options for the 42 residents the shelter currently houses, BC Housing asked the city to keep the shelter open for an additional year until March 31, 2022.
Council quickly and unanimously shot down the request on March 2. Councillors and the mayor cited safety and security concerns and a lack of transparency from BC Housing as the main reasons for their decision.
Now, a group of concerned residents is organizing a protest in opposition to council’s decision.
The protest, advertised in a Facebook group called Penticton Overdose Prevention, will take place Friday, March 5 at 2 p.m. across from city hall at Gyro Park.
“Please join us in taking a stand against the decision city council has made to not extend this vital service in our community,” reads a post in the group.
Organizers, led by local harm reduction advocate Desiree Franz, encourage protesters to bring tents and set them up in Gyro Park to “show city council what the result of their decision will look like come April 1.”
If the shelter is forced to cease operations on April 1, all 42 residents will be displaced.
B.C. Housing Minister David Eby was outspoken against council’s decision, stating he believes the city has put itself at risk of creating a tent city. BC Housing is currently trying to find homes for people living in tent cities in Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo.
Eby said he fears Penticton is flirting with a similar situation.
“We simply can’t have a situation of another encampment in the province that’s deliberately created,” Eby said. “We can’t afford to go backwards in Penticton.”
Penticton mayor John Vassilaki took issue with Eby’s comments, saying he does not believe a homeless encampment will establish as one never has in past years when winter shelters close. Vassilaki said Eby’s comments were “irresponsible” and that Eby was “using fear-mongering in order to get his way.”
“I will not be intimidated by him or anyone else when it comes to the safety and the welfare of the City of Penticton,” Vassilaki said.
|The poster posted in the Facebook group ‘Penticton Overdose Prevention’ calls for residents to set up tents in Gyro Park in protest of council’s decision to close a winter shelter Apri1 1, 2021. (Penticton Overdose in Penticton’s Gyro Park Prevention / Facebook)|