Vanier residents engaged in tense exchanges with Salvation Army workers at an open house Wednesday intended to convince residents of the merits of a new 350-bed homeless shelter in their neighbourhood.

The Christian charity formally announced in June its proposal to replace the emergency shelter it currently operates in the ByWard Market with a multi-purpose facility on 333 Montreal Rd.

The choice of site, at a location currently owned by the organization and operated as a motel and one of the charity's thrift stores, has been unpopular.

'It isn't a mega-shelter'

The consultation ran from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and included displays from frontline workers who would offer some of the services at the proposed site — such as an emergency shelter, homelessness outreach programs, housing placement counseling and financial planning advice.

Residents sometimes had tense one-on-one conversations with those frontline workers about the impact the services would have on the safety of their neighbourhood.

Salvation Army spokesperson Glen van Gulik said that the facility would be an economic boon for the neighbourhood, however, and he tried to use the community meeting to assuage people's fears about the new location.  

"It isn't a mega-shelter. It is large, yes, but that's part of making sure that we can do what we do best — and be able to serve the needs of the community and the city of Ottawa, quite frankly, in the best possible way," van Gulik said.

Salvation Army Montreal Road

An artist's rendering of a proposed new Salvation Army facility on Montreal Road in Vanier. (Salvation Army)

'They're not new jobs'

More than 150 people protested outside the Salvation Army's open house.

Drew Dobson, the owner of Finnegan's Pub and spokesman for SOS Vanier, which opposes the shelter proposal, said he doubted the economic impact report's rosy findings.

"The investment of $53 million to build the facility, it would be spent by another organization if this facility was sold to a condo developer," said Dobson.

"The jobs that they're planning on creating — they're not new jobs," he added.

The facility would have an annual budget of $15 million, according to Barry Nebatian, a partner at Shore-Tanner & Associates who worked on the economic impact study and answered questions at one of the booths at the open house.

Barry Nabatian Salvation Army Sept 13, 2017

Barry Nabatian, with Shore-Tanner & Associates, answered questions about the proposed shelter's economic impact Wednesday night. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"If another organization were to go there and spend more than $15 million a year, certainly they would have more of an economic impact and benefit," Nabatian said.

"So it all depends on who would go there instead. But what I understand is, that site for a long time has been available. And there has not been any interest."

Nabatian said the site would generate a net of 20 to 25 new jobs for the Salvation Army, but add 150 jobs at a workplace in Vanier where there is currently no employment.

Robert Bellemare and Kristina Small Vanier residents Sept 13, 2017

Vanier residents Robert Bellemare and Kristina Small say nothing at the open house reassured them about the Salvation Army's proposal. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Kristina Small and her partner Robert Bellemare live a few blocks away from the proposed location and said nothing about the consultation convinced them to support the proposal.

"I really wish the scale was up for debate,"  Small said. "Where have we ever seen that centralizing that many services has been a benefit, anywhere?"

Bellemare said he thought the Salvation Army's abstinence-only approach towards drugs wasn't appropriate in Vanier, where harm reduction programs already exist and are more suitable to drug users' needs.

"It seems like their methods are outdated," he said. "They're just going to bring back a model that's been proven ineffective."

Councillor opposes location

Erin O'Connell, the city planner in charge of the file, said the city had received upwards of 500 community comments about the proposal.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury has been vocal in his opposition of the choice of location and wants the project put on pause and the Salvation Army to consider spreading the services it would offer to multiple sites.

Fleury has also been a critic of how the Salvation Army has handled security in and around the shelter's current George Street location.

Coun. Tobi Nussbaum, whose ward is near the proposed site, said he was listening to residents and had raised similar concerns to Fleury about the concentration of services at the Salvation Army site.

"Every councillor has a responsibility to inform him or herself about these issues," Nussbaum said. "This is important not just for Vanier. It's an important move, it's an important question for the whole city."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that Salvation Army owns the building at 333 Montreal Rd. In fact, Salvation Army is presently leasing the Thrift Store space. A conditional offer for the building by the Salvation Army has been accepted by its owner, but is contingent on City of Ottawa zoning and official plan amendments being approved.
    Sep 14, 2017 8:44 AM ET