The emergency winter shelter at Victory Church has had its opening delayed because of requirements from the fire department and city.
Victory Church at 352 Winnipeg Street was set to open on Nov. 1 as an emergency winter shelter.
Tony Lang, the chief executive officer of the Penticton and District Society for Community Living (PDSCL) which is running the shelter said their target date to have the Victory Winter Shelter open is Nov. 16.
“This date will be confirmed once we get a bit closer,” Lang told the Western News. “Work is in progress to complete some of the health and safety needs of the site as directed by the fire department and city building department.”
But if the weather takes a sudden turn for the worse, they will reconsider the opening timeline based on the work completed to date, he added.
In October, despite reservations, council unanimously approved the temporary six-month permit for the shelter. The owners of the property will be renovating in March of 2021, and it will not be possible to extend the usage of the location beyond that.
At the time of approval Penticton Coun. Katie Robinson noted a report which said that Compass House has 20 additional beds, planned for emergency winter housing, but due to COVID-19, can’t be used.
“If the world gets back to some sort of normal, we’ll be back in Compass House, which will have another 12 units, plus the winter spaces back,” Lang told council in October. “That’s always been our plan, it was never our plan to expand to another location, this was a pandemic response, and it always was.”
The mayor sought assurances that the Victory Church location wouldn’t result in the same complaints that he receives from the area around Compass House.
Lang added that since Compass House opened, the widespread problems of discarded needles in parks and neighbourhoods haven’t emerged at the same level, at least on social media. The mayor challenged that, stating that council “gets all the complaints, not the public, we get them all.”
Despite applying for the full 42 beds at the facility, the PDSCL is only looking at filling 20 to 30 of them, with minimum two staff on at all times. Additional beds would require additional minimum staff, as well as extra staff during the day for other services at the facility.
In addition to the property being fenced off, as well as a cleaning crew for both Compass House and around the Victory Church, the PDSCL will be hiring security services for the two locations.
“We’re going to spend the equivalent of five full-time staff on just security on these two locations,” said Lang. “If we didn’t have to do that security, we could have a lot more people being supported to get off drugs, or to deal with their mental health issues.”
Lang was asked at multiple points if he felt that the facility would be enough to meet the predicted need over the winter.
“No. I’m here to be frank and honest; it won’t be enough,” Lang said. “We had 75 people at one point during January last year during a really bad cold snap. … If we’re capped at 42, we’ll turn people away.”
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