Penticton mayor John Vassilaki and Minister of Housing David Eby have been battling over the Victory Church shelter and BC Housing projects in the city. (File photos)

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki and Minister of Housing David Eby have been battling over the Victory Church shelter and BC Housing projects in the city. (File photos)

Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

B.C.’s Attorney General David Eby has come out swinging only hours after Penticton’s mayor ran ads in newspapers urging the Premier to intervene in the homeless shelter dispute.

The tit-for-tat feud is ramping up again with Eby saying that those running the Victory Church homeless shelter are facing legal threats.

Only hours after the mayor’s ad went into several newspapers across Penticton and in the Victoria Times Colonist, Eby has already come out fighting back with a long reply.

The ad Mayor John Vassilaki had paid to put in various papers, including the Western News, urged Premier John Horgan to ‘immediately intervene’ against Eby exercising provincial powers to keep the Victory Church homeless shelter open.

The city refused to extend the temporary permit for the shelter passed its March 31, deadline, with Eby overriding the city by using the province’s paramountcy powers.

In the letter, the mayor said the city had a good working relationship with the province on homeless housing until Eby came along.

READ MORE: Penticton mayor urges BC Premier to intervene on homeless shelter issue

Here’s the rebuttal statement from Eby that was also sent to the mayor and council:

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“The Times Colonist recently ran a paid advertisement from the Mayor of Penticton concerning the difficult and ongoing problem of homelessness in his community. Some parts of the advertisement were correct. Some were not.

“But I’m not going to quibble.

“The core of the issue is this: The Mayor of Penticton wants to close a fully occupied homeless shelter in Penticton. This would evict the 42 people who live in the shelter into the street, or a local park. There are no other shelter beds or homes available.

“To achieve this goal, the Mayor is supporting legal action against the non-profit that runs the shelter. As a result, the people doing the work of sheltering and supporting the homeless in Penticton are now facing legal threats from the city. I talked to these workers. They’re kind and dedicated. Just the right people to help those in distress. They could easily give up, but they won’t. I’m grateful for that.

“The Mayor’s advertisement ran in this Victoria-based newspaper. This is strange, because Victoria is one of the best models of provincial and municipal cooperation in British Columbia right now. Our governments have a signed a partnership agreement to address the homelessness crisis in city parks. We’re reaching a significant milestone this week as the city begins again enforcing park bylaws related to camping, and the final campers move inside to spaces made available by the province.

“In Penticton’s newspaper, a story ran about the city fencing in Penticton’s well-known Gyro Park bandshell. The fence is intended to stop people from sleeping under the bandshell, among other undesirable activities. On the issue of fencing the bandshell to keep Penticton’s homeless out, the Mayor blamed BC Housing. He said: “I just hope BC Housing is paying attention to the mess they’re creating.”

“Similar news stories run regularly in Penticton about homeless structures, tents, homelessness, drug use, poverty, and related bylaw enforcement. They’ve run for many years now. That’s because Penticton has a serious and interrelated homelessness, mental health and addiction problem.

“I try to imagine how this long-term problem in Penticton will be improved if the Mayor manages to put another 42 people out into the street. I wonder how leaving 42 people with nowhere to go at night will make seniors in Penticton feel safer or address crime rates, which is what the advertisement said the Mayor wants.

“By contrast, in Victoria a “tiny homes” development finishes construction this week. 30 people who currently live in a park will move in this Friday. These homes were built through a unique partnership between the city, a private developer, neighbours, donors, volunteers, and the provincial government. It’s an inspiring example of how partners can work together to lift up people in distress.

“The tiny homes site is a pilot project. BC Housing has not joined in on a tiny homes project like this before. Everyone is hoping it will be successful, but there’s always the risk of problems. It is only the strength of partnership that allows us all to take this chance and try something new. Partnership makes it possible to respond quickly to local opportunities. Those 30 people would still be in a park next week if we didn’t have a strong partnership with Victoria. Instead they’ll be housed.

“Penticton’s residents, housed and unhoused, deserve the benefits of partnership too. My door remains open.”

BC HousingHomelessHousing and HomelessnessHousing crisis

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