Despite a “desperate need” for more supportive housing in Penticton, city politicians voted Tuesday to hold off on granting final permission for a new project until BC Housing commits in writing to being a good neighbour.
“That should send a strong message to BC Housing that we are willing to move forward, and it puts the onus on BC Housing to get their act together and sign the agreement and negotiate the agreement in a timely manner,” said Coun. Julius Bloomfield, whose motion was passed unanimously following nearly 2 1/2 hours of debate.
BC Housing owns the site of the proposed 54-unit development at 3240 Skaha Lake Rd. It has already hired two non-profits – ASK Wellness Society and Ooknakane Friendship Centre – to operate the facility, which would cater to Indigenous clients already on the road to recovery from addictions and mental health issues.
Residents would have to commit to not consuming drugs or alcohol on site, in contrast to three existing supportive housing projects in the city that all feature dedicated rooms where people can take drugs under the supervision of trained volunteers.
Bob Hughes, CEO of ASK Wellness, described it as a “made-in-Penticton approach” that responds to community concerns that must be addressed now
“I would suggest that we are in such a desperate need to create pathways for people for recovery that this project cannot wait any further and cannot be deferred. It is absolutely critical that we provide opportunities for people,” Hughes told council.
“There is nowhere... for people to go when they do want to get well, apart from the very limited number of beds that exist at Discovery House.”
But despite Hughes’ impassioned pleas, council was wary of opening the door to another BC Housing project while it still has outstanding concerns about the existing facilities.
Those concerns, such as public disorder around the sites, are currently being explored in a third-party audit that should be complete early next year. The audit was requested by council, which also asked BC Housing not to apply for any new projects until the audit is finished.
Mayor John Vassilaki said council and the public “have lost confidence in BC Housing and the way they run their facilities,” and a written agreement setting out the city’s expectations for the new project is the only way to restore trust.
Terms of the agreement are yet to be discussed but must “ensure the satisfactory future operations of the facility,” according to the motion approved by council.
Housing Minister David Eby is expected to comment Thursday on council’s decision.
Council is already engaged in a separate legal dispute with Eby and BC Housing over the old Victory Church homeless shelter, which is operating in contravention of the local zoning bylaw.