The recovery-based BC Housing project at 3240 Skaha Lake Road took one step forward but not before an hour of lengthy and often heated discussion and concern from Penticton city council.
ASK Wellness Society (ASK) and the Ooknakane Friendship Centre (OFC) were in front of city council Tuesday as the operators of the upcoming housing, seeking a development permit to proceed with construction.
In the end, and after many different versions of the motion, council voted unanimously to approve a development permit to allow for the construction of a four-storey, 54-unit congregate housing building located at 3240 Skaha Lake Road, subject to an agreement being reached between the owners of the property, BC Housing and the city to ensure the satisfactory future operations of the facility.
Council said it was supportive of the treatment facility, but wanting assurances such as a performance bond or covenants on the property.
Now city staff will work with BC Housing to get either a performance bond or operating agreement before they sign off on the permit.
Ask Wellness director Bob Hughes assured council this new housing is not a low barrier entry facility and is not a wet facility like the other supportive housing around town. Recovery is an expectation of those living at the Skaha housing.
“This is a made in Penticton approach that focuses on recovery and brings in Indigenous support to help people get well and stay well,” said Hughes.
The residents will sign a program agreement committing to their ongoing recovery, healing, and wellness, which includes refraining from on-site substance use. The residents there will be coming from Discovery House, or other treatment centres and from the local shelters who are committed to their recovery journey.
Mathew Barrett, of the Ooknakane Friendship Centre, said he was excited about this housing because it is the first time all the resources will be there for people.
People experiencing homelessness in Penticton are disproportionately Indigenous, representing approximately one-third of the homeless count in Penticton, said Ask Wellness and OFC.
“Time is of the essence. Indigenous lives are being lost,” said Matthew Baran, executive director of Ooknakane Friendship Centre.
“We are in an addiction crisis. This problem is only going to get worse and this housing is a unique solution.”
A report presented to city council earlier in the evening from Interior Health’s addictions services showed that Penticton has some of the highest cases of overdose deaths and overdoses in B.C. per capita and by far the highest calls for ambulance services in the entire region for overdoses.
But the owner of the property is BC Housing which does not have a good relationship with Penticton.
“Once bitten twice shy. We’ve heard these type of promises before [about supportive housing]” said Coun. Katie Robinson. “What guarantee can you give that BC Housing won’t come in and change your objectives of recovery?”
Mayor John Vassilaki said it is council and himself who hear from the residents about the problems that have resulted from BC Housing in Penticton.
“As you know our residents have lost confidence in BC Housing and so has this council on how they run housing and the problems they cause neighbourhoods,” said Vassilaki. “Since we’ve had these shelters and housing crime has quadrupled. We wanted an audit of BC Housing and we still haven’t seen it.”
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