Ottawa·ELECTION 2018

The Fix: All In A Day tackles city issues ahead of the election

With the Oct. 22 municipal election just around the corner, CBC Ottawa's All In A Day is collecting listeners' municipal gripes — and seeking solutions.

8 citizens will be sharing concerns from community housing to proliferating potholes

Graham Winter, left, shares his concern about community housing in Ottawa with All In A Day host Alan Neal at a pop-up event called "The Fix" on Oct. 3, 2018. All In A Day will be sharing eight residents' complaints regarding city issues in the days leading up to the Oct. 22 municipal election — and also seeking solutions. (CBC)

With the Oct. 22 municipal election just around the corner, CBC Ottawa's All In A Day is collecting listeners' municipal gripes — and also seeking solutions.

The show has invited eight listeners to share stories about a specific time they've felt let down by the City of Ottawa, from an over-proliferation of potholes to missing sidewalks at bus stops.

Their stories were gathered Oct. 3 at a "pop-up" community event called The Fix, hosted by CBC Radio's Alan Neal.

First up was Graham Winter, who'd lived in an Ottawa Community Housing [OCH] building on Caldwell Avenue for nearly a decade.

At CBC All In A Day's special election storytelling pop-up, Graham Winter explained how ongoing problems in his social housing complex drove him to isolate himself from his neighbours, including one who needed his help. Hannah Vlaar and Janet Bowes, who have both worked in community housing in Ottawa, proposed solutions. 7:40

He recalled an incident when a group of people forced their way into his neighbour's apartment, beat him up, and stole "everything" from the unit.

Winter said he didn't hear anything because he'd learned to tune out all the various noises in the building.

"The problem was that I was home during that whole time, and I did nothing," Winter said.

"I realized that was a fundamental change in me since I had started living in community housing. Because there's so much that goes on on a constant daily basis that you turn a blind eye to things."

When you put so many people ... all in the same area, you create an awful lot of problems.- Graham Winter

Winter said that by gathering so many impoverished, low-income people in one place, the housing complex has turned into what he regrettably describes as an "instant slum." 

"As someone who lives there and wants to take pride in your community, you don't want to use that word," Winter said. "But when you put so many people ... all in the same area, you create an awful lot of problems."

Over the next couple of weeks, CBC Ottawa will be sharing all eight citizens' complaints. 

All In A Day has also promised to pursue ways to address those problems. On Friday, they gave each of the four candidates in River Ward 90 seconds to respond to Graham's community housing concern.

Here's some of what they had to say. Their answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Riley Brockington

Certainly there are challenges, and certainly the density in Caldwell is high. 

The vast majority of people who live in Caldwell — let alone social housing — are good people, law abiding. Like anyone else they want to live in a safe community. They want to be contributing members of the community.

Certainly OCH needs to do a lot more about removing tenants who are engaged in criminal activity. If you look at OCH eviction numbers in any particular year, they're very low. They don't want to evict people. And yet we know there is criminal activity happening in units — not just in Caldwell but across many of their units across the city.

We see a lot of issues with their own properties, whether it be property standards, unit repairs, landscaping, enforcement of basic tenant rules. The challenge is the number of people here — it's certainly a large population here — but it doesn't mean we can't keep trying and keep rebuilding.

Fabien Kalala Cimankinda

I just want to say that I was born in Congo and grew up at Caldwell. 

What Graham's saying here, I have lived it, actually. I still even have family in the community and visit the families everyday there. Sometimes I have dropped my son, who is nine months [old], for a visit.

In the past years I've hosted a lot of activities and facilitated many activities [like] breakfasts or basketball or bringing the kids outside to watch movies ... The solution, I'm seeing here, it's more about community engagement.

It's not just that Caldwell's a building. It's a home of someone. And it's how to make them feel safe — starting by breaking these isolations. It's how can we make sure we have a place for community, youths and families, and at the same time, [get] the community themselves to be involved and bring solutions to the table.

Kerri Keith

I appreciated hearing Graham's story, because when he was describing it, he sounds like a very compassionate person.

For him to feel that sense of isolation and numbness from what was going on around him — and then [to lose it] by working at the community centre, the Caldwell Family Centre — I thought that could be a solution for a lot of people living in that community. And I know that they're trying to build a newer family centre there that could probably engage even more people.

My daughter, she's adopted from South America. And it shocked me when I visited the family centre and I saw the facilities that they use, because they are not adequate. My daughter's orphanage in South America was better equipped than what I saw there, which I found incredibly shocking.

So I think we just need to involve people more and make them feel connected to their community.

Hassib Reda

What I think Graham is experiencing is a symptom of a bigger problem. I mean, they call it community housing but there's really no sense of community in these areas.

It's almost a place where people go to buy time. It's where the government places you until they find a more suitable option for you in your life. And this is something that needs to change. 

There's definitely, for me, a public safety dimension to this that needs to be addressed. You can also couple this with cultural sensitivity, and I want to take it one step further and start talking about anti-racism education.

We need to have police officers realize the challenges that many of these residents face so that when they enter the communities, they know how to deal with the different cultural issues that exist. And for that reason, we need to start investing more in social services. We need to invest in mental health services.

We can work with the province. We can work with the federal government. And we can also work with a lot of NGOs who are actually waiting for the city to reach out to them.

Stay tuned in the run-up to this month's election for more city gripes.