The city of Penticton’s battle with the province over a homeless shelter located on Winnipeg Street is now officially before the courts.
On Wednesday, July 7, the petition was officially filed with the B.C. Supreme Court to challenge the provincial government over their use of paramountcy powers to overrule the city’s council bylaw and decisions regarding the shelter.
The shelter, run in the former Victory Church building, was originally proposed as a temporary winter housing solution in October 2020, but the province has since extended the building’s use as a shelter months past the date it was originally meant to close. The city wants the shelter that houses over 40 people closed immediately.
Penticton council has previously sparred with the Ministry of the Attorney General over the continued use of the shelter beyond its previously approved temporary permit. That permit was set to expire at the end of March, 2021.
“This matter involves a community land use problem and council remains united on the position it’s taken with the province since first learning of Mr. Eby’s decision to ignore the will of our community as it relates to 352 Winnipeg Street,” said Penticton mayor John Vassilaki in a press release issued July 7.
“Council has listened and by way of polls, petitions and letters, thousands of residents have told us that 352 Winnipeg Street is no place for a shelter, and we agree. That is why council denied renewing the permit and why we continue to oppose the facility, at this location. We hope BC Housing will do the right thing and close the shelter, adhere to the city’s bylaws and avoid the necessity of going to court.”
The press release noted that the city has approved spending up to $300,000 on the legal challenge, citing approval from residents based on an April community poll.
That poll found 51 per cent of the public and 39 per cent of random people surveyed support legally challenging the province in the courts.
The public survey generated 3,472 responses. Meanwhile, the survey of a random sample of the database of 5,700 ‘Shape Your City’ active members generated 421 responses.
Housing Minister David Eby replied to the Penticton Western News’ request for comment to say that he was unable to comment on details of the case, while also disappointed to hear about Penticton’s decision.
“It appears that the best case scenario from Penticton’s perspective is that they spend $300,000 and increase the city’s street homeless population by 42 people,” Eby said in a written statement. “We will continue to work with Penticton city staff to respond to that city’s ongoing homelessness crisis, despite this lawsuit.”
The statement also noted that BC housing and the province would continue to work with the city on the ongoing homelessness crisis despite the legal battle. BC Housing recently announced that they were beginning the audit requested by Penticton council earlier this year.
“Our position has been, and will continue to be, that bringing people experiencing homelessness indoors is far better than putting them out on the streets, without the supports and services they need,” Eby concluded.
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