A local restaurant owner says he “simply snapped” when he dumped feces outside the Compass House homeless shelter Tuesday morning.
White Spot franchisee Al Mansfield, who has since been asked by the company to step aside from his duties while an investigation is underway, was caught in the act by a staff member at the shelter, which is only about 50 metres from the Main Street restaurant.
Mansfield issued a public apology just hours later after the incident came to light on social media.
“I simply snapped after once again finding human feces near my restaurant and showed inexcusable judgement even though I realized immediately that what I had done was wrong,” Mansfield said in a statement sent to local media outlets.
“I am ashamed and embarrassed by my actions at Compass House in Penticton on Tuesday morning and I wanted to come forward to publicly apologize sincerely to (shelter manager) Roger Evans and residents for the hurt I caused…. I also apologize to the people of Penticton for showing such callous disregard for the homeless residents in our community who are often the most vulnerable and disadvantaged through no fault of their own.”
Mansfield, who didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday, goes on to note White Spot restaurants in Penticton and elsewhere “should in no way be judged by my actions. What I did could not be further from the values of White Spot and showed disrespect for all that White Spot has stood for over the past 90 years and for their many loyal guests.”
He concluded by acknowledging “Penticton is facing a homelessness crisis and requires considerable support to create meaningful change, of which I am committed to being a part of.”
White Spot president Warren Erhart said in a statement Wednesday that Mansfield’s actions “were disgraceful and in no way represent the values of White Spot Hospitality.”
“Mr. Mansfield has expressed shame and remorse and apologized publicly for what he did at Compass House in Penticton,” Erhart continued.
“Nevertheless, we acknowledge the extreme severity of this situation and will be conducting a thorough investigation into this matter. Meanwhile, we have asked Mr. Mansfield to step back from the day-to-day operations of his business until we determine an appropriate course of action.”
Compass House, which boasts a 30-bed emergency shelter and 18 units of supportive housing, has been an irritant for neighbours since it opened in April 2019 and triggered broader community discussions about the siting of such facilities.
It’s operated by the Penticton and District Society for Community Living, the executive director of which called for calm Wednesday.
“Rhetoric on the issue of homelessness in our city has gone from public discourse to actions that are totally unacceptable. We have reached out in person to all our neighbours to mitigate the impacts of homeless persons in our neighbourhood, not just the impact that shelter residents may have on neighbouring businesses,” Tony Laing said in an email.
“Many of the issues of homelessness are fixed by having shelters and adequate washrooms. Residents who have to be in the shelter by 11 p.m. are not the ones committing property crimes in the middle of the night. Residents in the shelter are not the same homeless people sleeping in your doorways when they have a bed in our shelters.”
Laing noted the homeless population – estimated at 160 as of January by the B.C. government – far exceeds the 74 emergency shelter beds that are currently available.
PDSCL also operates the old Victory Church shelter at 352 Winnipeg St. Originally set up as a winter shelter, it was due to close March 31, but the B.C. government has kept it open by using its powers to override local decision-makers.
“Closing winter shelters has always been a way of managing costs and risks. We now have a funding opportunity to provide stable housing for the next year. The problem didn't go away each April 1, it was always the funding,” added Laing.
“Stable housing if the ‘first step,’ other health services are still required. We can't treat mental illness and addiction if you don't have a home, someplace safe to be. Housing first is not a solution but every journey starts with the first step, including the journey to wellness.”