'It's not about being mean': Penticton city councillor defends motion to prioritize homeless shelter spaces for locals

B.C.’s housing minister is remaining non-committal following a call for an independent, third-party review of B.C. housing projects in the City of Penticton. City council is calling for an audit to be completed before the housing agency moves forward with plans to build a fourth shelter for the homeless in town. Shelby Thom has more.

A Penticton, B.C., city councillor said his motion to prioritize homeless shelter spaces for residents who have lived in the community for more than a year is not about “being mean,” but rather to support local residents before the transient population in the tourist-driven lakeside town.

Julius Bloomfield tabled the motion at a Feb. 16 regular council meeting and it passed by a vote of 4–2.

The motion reads: “The City of Penticton shall convey to the various agencies involved in providing shelter to the homeless a request to prioritize shelter spaces to Indigenous and First Nations and those people who have resided in Penticton for more than one year.”

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While speaking on CKNW’s The Mike Smyth Show on Monday, Bloomfield defended the initiative, suggesting that surrounding communities have not provided their fair share of support services for those experiencing homelessness.

“It’s not about being mean to the population in need,” he said.

“There are communities immediately around us that have not provided any social housing to their homeless, the people from the regional district may well be migrating into Penticton and coming here and that puts a strain on our city services.”

Bloomfield said his motion was crafted after BC Housing proposed a fourth supportive housing facility in the relatively small community of 35,000 people.

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“The council’s position is that we have a large amount of supportive housing within the city already and we’ve got one social housing unit for every 143 people in the City of Penticton. Compare that to one for every 312 in Kelowna, and one for every 495 in Vernon, and one for every 3,600 in B.C. on average,” he said.

“Our social housing inventory here is very high, and yet we still have a problem.”

Penticton city councillor Katie Robinson took issue with the motion, stating it would be difficult to prove a place of residence, and could inadvertently harm those in need.

“Let’s say a family moved here from somewhere else, they haven’t been in our community for a year, and all of a sudden there is domestic violence — are we seriously not going to say that a woman and her child are not going to get the help they need and the home that they need because now they’re homeless?” she said at the council meeting.

“That is just one example of a million you could come up with. I don’t know it would work in practice.”

Bloomfield said local service providers are very familiar with their clientele and it wouldn’t be difficult to pinpoint a fresh face.

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“If they’ve been in the support services, if they are on the radar of our community service task force then we know who they are. The service providers here are not ignorant of the population here, they know a lot of these people on a first-name basis,” he said.

The motion is merely a recommendation to the local service providers and the directive is not binding.

Tony Laing, CEO of the Penticton and District Society for Community Living, does not agree with the motion.

The non-profit organization operates shelter and supportive housing facilities in Penticton.

“From the statistics we gathered through a recent random sample of 28 shelter guests, 3 had been in Penticton less than a year,” he said in an email.

“People coming from around the province for homeless shelter space is a myth.”

Laing said services at the shelters are on a first-come-first-served basis.

For Supportive housing, individuals are triaged through a system that looks at many factors but does not include how long someone has lived in Penticton, he said.

“Not providing housing is not the solution to homelessness.”

Penticton’s mayor and council have been grappling with a rising homeless population, despite more shelter spaces being made available.

The city is calling on the provincial government to fund a third-party, independent audit of existing social housing facilities in Penticton before a fourth one is built.

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