Update: Aug. 19
After the Canadian Mental Health Association- South Okanagan Similkameen (CMHA-SOS)- who operate Unity House made an impassioned plea to city council about how important it is for them to stay at Skaha Sunrise and not get kicked out, BC Housing has met with the organization.
BC Housing stated it met with CMHA-SOS on Aug. 18, to discuss how they can work together through the redevelopment process of Skaha Sunrise.
“This project and building design is at a very early stage, and we will continue to engage with CMHA-SOS as we move through the redevelopment process,” said BC Housing on Wednesday.
The buildings on Skaha Lake Road are old and in need of costly and extensive repairs — which is why BC Housing has decided to redevelop the area.
“We see it as a great opportunity to provide new, affordable homes for Penticton by replacing all four buildings. This will not happen until a fulsome planning and redevelopment process has been completed,” BC Housing told the Western News in an email.
“The needs of tenants have been and will continue to be, the priority of BC Housing. Nothing will change for tenants at this time.”
Leah Schulting the CMHA-SOS executive director along with a Unity House board member was in front of Penticton city council on Tuesday, explaining that keeping Unity House at Skaha Sunrise, where clients live, is crucial to their well being.
Schulting told council that they had thought Unity House would be part of the redevelopment plan but were saddened to find out they weren’t.
Earlier this month, BC Housing served them a notice to vacate by April 2022, so they can redevelop the site.
There are 44 tenants at Skaha Sunrise who rely on Unity House.
CMHA has leased the space from BC Housing for 12 years.
“Facing a loss of their supports is very concerning for our clients. They don’t know where they are going to go in a crisis. The situation is creating a whole lot of stress and anxiety for our clients,” said Schulting told council.
After BC Housing purchased three Penticton motels in May, including Skaha Sunrise, it gave notice to Unity House that it had to vacate.
BC Housing plans to tear down the old motels and rebuild them into higher-quality supportive housing.
“We are coming out of a pandemic and the wildfires and we need mental health services more than ever,” said Schulting. “The clubhouse is a safe place. It’s a community where people have a sense of belonging and worth. It would be a huge loss to the community at large if we couldn’t have the clubhouse.”
The CMHA, through Unity House, provides daily medication support, mental health supports, a meal program where clients take part in grocery shopping and meal prep, supportive employment programs and crisis intervention. That includes having a mental health advocate located where the residents are staying, who is able to offer support with housing, ministry and health services.
“Many of our clients have gained employment skills and some have moved on to create their own business,” she added.
Prior to knowing that BC Housing would be working with CMHA-SOS, Coun. Judy Sentes expressed her deep frustration with BC Housing at Tuesday’s meeting.
“BC Housing fails in partnerships. They speak very freely of supportive housing and yet their actions remove those supports,” said Sentes.
“They talk so eloquently about the wraparound service, but all our community sees is those services being removed,” said Coun. Katie Robinson.
CMHA said having a clubhouse where the tenants live has been crucial. To find that kind of space elsewhere in the city would be challenging.
“We’d like to be part of the new phase at Sunrise. This is a critical service and I hope we’ve demonstrated how much mental health supports are needed in the city right now,” said Schulting.
BC Housing will manage the tenants but CMHA won’t be able to provide support on-site if they have to move, said Schulting. BC Housing responded briefly that CMHA can apply to be part of the redevelopment.
“It’s shocking to me that the tenants that remain at Skaha Sunrise will lose those supports,” said Coun. Campbell Watt. “Support is what has been missing by BC Housing and in this case, they are actually taking it away.”
“Yet another example of quality programs given the shaft,” said Coun. James Miller.
“Promises of supports by BC Housing just aren’t there. They are throwing people out on the curb for real,” said Mayor John Vassilaki.