ByWard Market petition compares shelters to 'cancer'

A ByWard Market business owner has collected thousands of signatures on a petition that refers to downtown homeless shelters as a "cancer" that is terminal for nearby businesses.

Online petition started by York Street business owner has collected 2,600 signatures

More than 2,600 people have signed a petition to move Ottawa's three major homeless shelters away from the Byward Market. (CBC)

A ByWard Market business owner has collected thousands of signatures on a petition that refers to downtown homeless shelters as a "cancer" that is terminal for nearby businesses.

Patrick O'Shaughnessy, owner of J.P. Monuments on York Street, started the online petition calling for the three shelters in the ByWard Market — the Salvation Army's Booth Centre, the Shepherds of Good Hope and The Ottawa Mission — to vacate the neighbourhood.

"The shelters, in their current configuration, must be diagnosed for what they are — a cancer which is now terminal for those residents and businesses in their vicinity. The prognosis is simple yet hard to hear — the cancer is spreading fast," O'Shaughnessy wrote on the petition page.

The petition was posted last week and had already racked up more than 2,600 signatures by Monday afternoon.

O'Shaughnessy called the current situation in the market "untenable," blaming the shelters' clients for damaging property, as well as the neighbourhood's reputation.

A joint statement from the three shelters issued Monday did not refer directly to the petition, but reaffirmed the importance of the work they do to help struggling people in the community, including providing health services, food, clothing and job training. 

"We are proud of the work we do to meet the daily needs of many of the most vulnerable in our community and are proud of the role we play in supporting both the ByWard Market and the City of Ottawa," the statement reads. 

Sends wrong message, councillor says 

O'Shaughnessy declined CBC's request for an interview, but in an email said the petition has garnered far more attention than he expected. He also said he would like to come up with some solutions to improve the situation in the Market for everyone.

But the city councillor for the area, Mathieu Fleury, said the petition sends the wrong message.

Fleury said he met with O'Shaughnessy two weeks ago, but claimed the business owner was reticent to speak with the local BIA about coming up with solutions.

"Instead of focusing on what are the issues and bringing forward solutions, [the petition] really points the finger at organizations that are working with very vulnerable residents," Fleury said.

The Salvation Army shelter already has plans to leave the Market and relocate to Vanier, a move that has been met with significant public outcry.

Fleury agrees centralizing all homeless people in one area is the wrong approach, but said the business community should be working with shelters and the city to come up with solutions.

On March 22, councillors will review the city's housing and homelessness plan in an attempt to modernize Ottawa's approach. That may involve more affordable housing, and could funnel more money into a housing first model, which prioritizes providing homeless people with a permanent place to live.