Penticton mayor John Vassilaki is irate after the province’s minister of housing, David Eby, called out the city’s decision to reject an application to keep a temporary winter shelter open longer than originally planned.
Eby has been vocal critic of Penticton’s decision, stating that he fears it will lead to the creation of a tent city.
Mayor Vassilaki clapped back at Eby’s remarks today (March 3).
“I think that it’s the most irresponsible thing that a minister of the crown would say to any community, especially using fear-mongering in order to get his way,” Vassilaki said in a phone interview with the Western News. “I will not be intimated by him or anyone else when it comes to the safety and the welfare of the City of Penticton.
Vassilaki voted in favour of rejecting BC Housing’s application to extend Victory Church’s use as a shelter for those experiencing homelessness for an additional year Tuesday (March 2). The mayor has repeatedly said the safety and security of the Penticton citizens remain among his top priorities.
He 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.
Moving forward, Vassilaki is concerned that the housing minister has not stated his intentions to council.
Eby has said that Eby plans to use statutory immunity, which would give BC Housing the power to exempt themselves from local government rules and keep the shelter open.
“I don’t know what his motivation is, I know that that he’s very passionate about the homeless people,” Vassilaki said.
He went on to say that the city has done “a lot” to help the city’s homeless population and that he and council care deeply about Penticton’s vulnerable population.
The mayor said the city is still hoping to receive an independent, third-party audit of existing BC Housing sites in Penticton. The mayor has no plans to work with BC Housing until the audit is complete.
“Until they do that there’s no use talking to him (Eby) because every-time we do he spins it so it sounds like we’re the ones causing problems,” said Vassilaki.
He hopes an audit will help determine if BC Housing facilities are having a positive impact in helping people work through mental health and addiction problems.
Vassilaki insisted that he and council didn’t create a problem by denying the application from BC Housing. He believes the city has not put itself at risk of a homeless encampment becoming established.
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.”
The mayor said the city hopes to find a permanent solution to the homelessness issue. It’s estimated there are upwards of 150 people living in Penticton without access to shelter — 42 of which are currently housed at the Victory Church shelter.
The city is starting to look into areas more suitable for shelter space than the downtown Victory Church location. Vassilaki hopes to establish a permanent shelter space rather than a rotating door of temporary winter shelters.