Clock ticking for women's shelter in search of new home

An Ottawa women's emergency shelter has just over three weeks to find a new home as the lease on its current location is getting cut short.

125 women are staying at Cornerstone Housing for Women in Ottawa

Cornerstone Housing for Women's original location on O'Connor Street in downtown Ottawa, which is currently undergoing renovations and repairs. (Google)

A women's emergency shelter in Ottawa has just over three weeks to find a new home because the lease on its current location is getting cut short.

Cornerstone Housing for Women is currently operating out of a residence at the University of Ottawa but needs to be out of there by the end of June, a month earlier than expected. 

The shelter's original home is on O'Connor Street in downtown Ottawa where it typically sees about 60 women a night, according to executive director Sarah Davis.

But given the pandemic, the shelter needs to comply with physical distancing measures, which would cut the O'Connor Street location's capacity in half. In order to avoid this, staff partnered with the City of Ottawa to relocate to a bigger space.

It began by renting hotel rooms but eventually struck an agreement with a university to move into an unused student residence from December until the end of July. Since that move, the number of people accessing the shelter has more than doubled, which Davis said has remained consistent. 

"The increase in homelessness is primarily due to job loss, the inability to stay with family and friends due to the pandemic restrictions and the breakdown of partnerships during the pandemic," Davis said.

But the university recently gave notice to Cornerstone Housing for Women that it would need to leave by June 30 so that it could prepare for the return of students, a move staff were warned might happen.

"Because OPH [Ottawa Public Health] guidelines will continue to guide how we welcome our students back on campus in August and September, we need time to prepare," reads a statement from the university.

Staff and clients aren't able to return to O'Connor Street either. The city is making necessary repairs and renovations to the space, which isn't expected be complete until the end of the year.

No solution yet

Now, shelter and city staff are desperately searching for a temporary home that can accommodate the growing number of women needing emergency housing.

"As you can imagine, finding accommodations for 125 people people is difficult," Davis said. 

In a statement, Christopher Tuck with the city's Human Needs Task Force said all parties involved "are working tirelessly to find a new temporary location with the least amount of disruption" to clients and staff.

"[The city] is exploring all options and will provide updates when a new location has been secured," Tuck said.

Mayor Jim Watson tweeted Thursday that the city was looking to find a solution "well before the end of the month."

In its statement, the university said it's offered "space in a residence currently being used as a family isolation centre to accommodate Cornerstone's needs." It is not clear how many people that space would have room for or for how long Cornerstone would be able to use it for.

Davis said no alternatives have been secured yet. Regardless, she's urging clients not to worry.

"The urgency is there and it's dire and it's not going away," Davis said. "I can assure you that every woman will, at the end of the month, have a space to call her own."

With files from Julia Sisler

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