Only four days before its next meal, the organizer of a weekly dinner for the homeless and street people of Penticton at Nanaimo Square was told to find a new location.
Kristine Shepherd said she received an e-mail Thursday from the Downtown Penticton Association telling her a small area of the square was being leased by a local bakery for patio space, and that her Monday night meals could no longer continue there.
“Every year, somebody tries to shut us down,” Shepherd said, in an interview.
Shepherd has been organizing the Monday night dinners as a private citizen for nearly four years now. The volunteer-driven initiative has grown so large that other local businesses have stepped in to take turns cooking meals each week. All of the items she serves are donated by the public.
Shepherd believes the plan to lease the space to the new business had been in the works for quite some time, and she was never notified until this week.
“They never involved me in any discussions whatsoever,” she said. “The DPA wanted me gone from day one.”
The DPA did not respond to the Okanagan Weekend's request for comment by press deadline.
But, City of Penticton director of development services Anthony Haddad said the Monday night meals could continue in Nanaimo Square, just not in the chained-off section the business is leasing.
“It’s a public square,” Haddad said. “There’s no elimination of the use she’s had there. They can continue to use it.”
Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki said while he doesn’t want to see the Monday night dinners end, he understands the need for an alternate location.
“I think what those ladies are doing is very commendable, trying to help out the less fortunate,” he said. “For me, it’s not a very big problem … but sometimes it creates a problem for the downtown merchants and surrounding area.
“Some people get intimidated by the folks who attend the dinner.”
He suggested the use of the nearby Soupateria, located four blocks away on Martin Street, since it isn’t being used during the evening hours.
But, Shepherd said the business that's leasing part of the square for patio space isn’t open on Mondays, and is closed in the evenings when the dinner runs.
“It’s (Nanaimo Square) the perfect place for the dinner. They’re already there. They’ve been congregating there all day, every day.
“I think they think if they move the dinner, they’ll move the homeless.”
Meanwhile, the city announced Friday morning it plans to put forth to council a proposition for an initiative to “improve public spaces” in the downtown core by allowing people to lease vacant sidewalk, parks or parking lots to use for “pop-up spaces” for music, events and vendor opportunities.
One of the available spaces up for grabs is Nanaimo Square.
But, alongside the city’s proposed initiative for council’s consideration is a bylaw that would make sitting or lying on the sidewalk in the downtown core during the summer months illegal.
The bylaw would cover the 100 to 300 block of Ellis Street, the 200 to 400 block of Martin Street and the 100 – 700 block of Main Street between May 1 and Sept. 30.
Both matters will be on the council agenda, Tuesday.
Shepherd has vowed that her Monday night meal at Nanaimo Square on Victoria Day will proceed as scheduled.