The City of Penticton is urging B.C. Premier John Horgan to intervene in its public fight with the province over a controversial homeless shelter.
On Tuesday, the city released an embargoed letter to the media, with Mayor John Vassilaki asking Horgan “to resolve the impasse between city residents and the Attorney General and Minister of Housing, David Eby.”
Located on Winnipeg Street, the 42-bed shelter was originally opened in November 2020 and was slated to close on March 31. However, BC Housing asked for a year-long extension, with city council flatly saying no.
Read more: Penticton seeks support from other B.C. municipalities in shelter fight with province
That sparked a war of words between the ministry and city council, with the province stepping in and overriding council’s unanimous decision.
In rejecting BC Housing’s request in early March, Coun. Julius Bloomfield noted, “We are simply holding BC Housing to their original promise to us and to the community.”
Later that month, Eby said the province would be using the province’s paramountcy authority to keep the shelter open.
“I hope that in the weeks and months ahead, Penticton’s council will reconsider their approach,” Eby said.
“If they do, we are always ready and willing to work with them. I firmly believe that although it is often more challenging than going it alone, provinces and cities produce better results when we work together.”
Currently, the city is mulling the possibility of legally challenging the province in court.
The letter says “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.”
It says Penticton, with a population of 33,000, provides 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,” the letter said.
“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.”
The city also issued a crime density map, which shows the emergency homeless shelter has become the epicentre for property crime in Penticton.
The city said the shelter has become a costly drain on police as well as being harmful to surrounding residents and businesses.
“Your government has not been silent, however, on provoking and polarizing legitimate concerns,” reads the letter. “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.”
Lastly, the letter asked Horgan to “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.”
Global News has reached out to the premier’s office and the Ministry of Housing for comment.
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