About 15 tents and approximately 50 people were in Gyro Park, in Penticton, as part of a protest over city council’s decision to not allow a winter shelter to stay open a year longer than first planned.
The controversial closure of Victory Church winter shelter has sparked debate not just in Penticton, but across the province after B.C. Housing Minister David Eby spoke out against council’s decision to not extend the shelter, stating he believes the city has put itself at risk of creating a tent city.
The tents at the protest Friday were in place to show council “what the result of their decision will look like.”
About 10 to 15 tents are set up in Gyro Park in anticipation of a protest over Penticton council's decision to not allow a winter to shelter to stay open a year longer than first planned. #Penticton #bcpoli #housing #homelessness pic.twitter.com/DD3AMg4nbs
— Jesse Day (@jessewilliamday) March 5, 2021
Penticton mayor John Vassilaki, fired back at Eby stating he does not believe a homeless encampment will establish as one never has in past years when winter shelters close. Vassilaki said the housing minister’s comments were “irresponsible” and that Eby was “using fear-mongering in order to get his way.”
This sparked the idea for the protest that is being organized by Desiree Franz. Franz said closing the shelter during a pandemic puts vulnerable people at risk.
“The consequence of displacing 42 people during a pandemic is that people who are already really comparable are being put at risk of exposure during a pandemic which is just unacceptable from a community level,” she said at the protest Friday.
Franz also said she had invited Vassilaki and council members to listen to speakers who have experienced homelessness but none attended.
“I think this is a really good reminder that when our mayor talks about his community members, he’s talking about the affluent community members, he’s not talking about people living in poverty otherwise he’d be here to hear what they have to say,” she said. “At the end of the day, if I can just change one person’s mind about this population, I think that’s a win. But our end goal is to keep these people housed for another year.”
Police reacted to news of the protest with a warning of fines and repercussions for people thinking of attending the protest, during the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a small police presence at the protest Friday, with three RCMP officers monitoring the situation. In the end, no fines were handed out, Franz confirmed after the protest Friday.
The public health order regarding gatherings, per the most recent version hosted on the Government of B.C. website, explicitly notes the Charter Right for Canadian’s to gather to communicate their position on an issue, as long they maintain public health recommendations.
Attendees heard people with lived experiences with homelessness share their stories and how the closure of Victory Church shelter will impact them.
Protesters at Gyro Park kept a safe distance from each other and were all wearing masks throughout the protest.
The presentation wrapped up by 3 p.m. with many attendees choosing to stay gathered in the park.