Women's shelter says clients, staff afraid to go outside amid protest
'The women really are feeling terrorized,' downtown shelter organizer says
The Cornerstone Housing for Women shelter in downtown Ottawa says the ongoing protest against Canada's pandemic rules in the city's core has re-triggered clients who have already experienced trauma — to the point that one woman has sought refuge at a hospital.
Sarah Davis, the shelter's executive director, said people have harassed clients for wearing masks. She said someone got in her face and yelled at her.
"Women are afraid to go out to access their supports and their services," said Davis. "The women really are feeling terrorized."
One client has gone to the hospital because of the "lack of reprieve" from the protest, which includes hours of honking truck horns a day, while Davis said others are turning to substance abuse.
"With COVID, we have a lack of space and the respite for the women is to be able to go outside and to get fresh air, and they can't even do that. They've now been imprisoned in their shelter."
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In anticipation of the tumult around the protest, which organizers say will last until all COVID-19 rules across Canada have been lifted, Cornerstone staff stocked up on food for its dozens of residents, Davis said. Some workers stayed at the shelter over the weekend.
Davis described one incident with a staffer whose cell phone died while she waited for a bus.
"She came back to the shelter in a bit of a panic, " Davis said. "She was afraid to be alone at night."
The last six days have left staff and residents exhausted at a time when the shelter was just resettling into its location following months of repairs and renovations that required temporary new housing for clients, Davis said.
These last six days have been extremely stressful for people experiencing homelessness and frontline staff working to support them in the downtown core.<br><br>Read the full statement on the downtown protest's impact on Cornerstone’s emergency shelter here: <a href="https://t.co/MO3M7SWaHO">https://t.co/MO3M7SWaHO</a> <a href="https://t.co/63LsvWkRRr">pic.twitter.com/63LsvWkRRr</a>—@HopeCornerstone
Cornerstone is one of the latest groups to speak out about what Ottawa's police chief described as "heavy fear all around" as the protest enters its seventh day Thursday.
Catherine McKenney, the city councillor for the ward including the shelter and much of the protest area, said the situation in residential neighbourhods south of Parliament Hill remains "unsettling and chaotic."
"We still have trucks that are parked near residents' homes, blaring horns," McKenney said, "We've got cars driving erratically around neighbourhoods. We have individuals out on the street harassing people."
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McKenney and fellow councillor Mathieu Fleury called on the police and Mayor Jim Watson to ask the RCMP to take over operations on the hill so Ottawa police officers could focus on safety concerns in neighbourhoods to the south.
Police Chief Peter Sloly said his force couldn't do that, but they would continue to try to help affected residents.
He also said Wednesday that policing alone might not solve the ongoing, volatile situation and military aid might be necessary to bring back order. The Canadian Armed Forces said later that day it has no plans to get involved in law enforcement.
With files from Nicole Williams and Giacomo Panico