Ottawa

Councillor wants respite centre for city's homeless

An Ottawa councillor hopes to open up a space for the city's homeless where they can rest and use the washroom during the pandemic. 

Pandemic highlights inequities, Catherine McKenney says

An Ottawa city councillor wants to see a respite centre opened up as soon as possible so vulnerable people have a safe place to rest and use the washroom during the pandemic. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

An Ottawa councillor hopes to open up a space for the city's homeless where they can rest and use the washroom during the pandemic. 

Coun. Catherine McKenney wants to reopen the Plant Recreation Centre on Somerset Street to give some of the city's most vulnerable people a place to be inside. 

The Somerset Ward councillor told CBC Radio's All In A Day Wednesday the space would offer things many take for granted at a home — like a comfy place to sit and a sink to wash hands in. 

The pandemic highlights inequities that people who are experiencing homelessness face on a daily basis, McKenney said. 

"We've got a deadly virus making the rounds and we're asking people to stay out of parks. Things have been closed down," the councillor said. "If you don't have a home today, it is significantly more difficult for you to get by."

According to McKenney, opening two centres on opposite sides of the canal is doable. 

What's prevented the respite centre from opening already is the challenge of securing enough workers to staff it, McKenney said. 

"The support staff, as we know, they're the essential services these days," McKenney said. "They're working flat out."

The city may also need to hire security, they said. 

Proper physical distancing protocols would need to be followed at the centre as well, meaning a limit on how many people can enter at one time. 

Coun. Catherine McKenney says the pandemic highlights the desperate situation people experiencing homelessness face. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Once inside, people would also have to be kept separated by at least two metres.

"But if you think back to the Plant Recreation Centre, you could easily have four of five people in that main lobby," McKenney said. 

Staffing issues aside, the councillor has approached the city's human needs task force and was told opening a respite centre is a priority. 

"So I'm hopeful that by the end of this week we'll have word on when that can be undertaken. It's a desperate situation. I hate to go into the weekend not having something in place for people." 

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