City of Penticton says province has agreed to move controversial homeless shelter at heart of lawsuit

Shelter closing, lawsuit over

The City of Penticton says the Province of British Columbia has decided to relocate the controversial Victory Church homeless shelter on Winnipeg Street to a different, permanent location.

In a press release issued late Wednesday afternoon, the city stated that the proposed new location for the shelter, 1706 Main Street — which already houses Compass Court and Compass House supportive housing and shelters — is consistent with municipal shelter guidelines.

The new shelter adjacent to the Compass sites would see 42 beds and would be operated by the Penticton and District Society for Community Living.

Staff are reviewing the application to move. The Victory Church shelter will close at that time.

The city's fight over the shelter began in March, when city council denied a temporary use permit extension that would have legalized its operation through the end of 2021.

Originally, the shelter, operated by PDSCL under BC Housing's authority, was only set to operate through the winter of 2020/21.

A request to extend that, citing clear demand for the always-full, 40-plus bed facility, and worries that without it, a tent city may form in a local park, was not well received by many councillors. They cited problems with other local BC Housing facilities, and increased incidents of petty crime and vagrancy in the Winnipeg Street area.

BC Housing Minister David Eby waded into the fray shortly thereafter, invoking paramountcy laws to keep the facility operating.

On July 7, the city filed a petition with the BC Supreme Court challenging those paramountcy powers after council voted yes to allowing up to $300,000 in spending on a lawsuit.

Approximately $70,000 has been spent to date.

The city now says that given the province's moves to relocate the shelter, they have directed legal counsel to withdraw pursuit of the petition.

"This is great news for Penticton’s most vulnerable who can now seek shelter and care in a facility that is built in an appropriate location. In the lead up to July’s decision, council heard clear public feedback from polls, petitions and letters, that 352 Winnipeg Street is no place for a shelter, and we agree. We are pleased to see Minister David Eby and the province closing this shelter and adhering to the city’s bylaws," reads a quote from John Vassilaki included in the press release.

“If approved by city staff, this new shelter would make sure that all Victory Church guests continue to have a safe, warm place to stay, with access to the supports they need to stabilize their lives,” said David Eby, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing in another press release.

“We will continue to work with the city and our non-profit partners to ensure that all residents in Penticton have a safe place indoors.”

“PDSCL appreciates the support of BC Housing as we work to provide safe housing during these challenging times,” said Tony Laing, CEO, PDSCL. “The shortage of affordable housing in our community, the opioid crisis and the pandemic require us all to work together and support each other to reach the goal of ensuring everyone has a safe place to call home. By consolidating our services at one location, we can reduce our impact on the community and continue ensure safe housing for those in need."

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