Salvation Army safety measures fall short, councillor says

New lights, removing phones from the lobby, more cleaning and extra security guards don't go far enough to make the Salvation Army Ottawa Booth Centre safer, according to the city councillor for the area.

Recent safety changes made at George Street emergency shelter don't go far enough, Coun. Mathieu Fleury says

A woman died and a man suffered serious injuries during a stabbing on the west side of the Salvation Army Ottawa Booth Centre in the ByWard Market last week. The agency announced Tuesday that it has made several safety changes following safety audits this past summer. (Idil Mussa/CBC)

Extra measure taken by the Salvation Army to beef up security around its George Street homeless shelter don't go nearly far enough, according to the city councillor for the area.

Earlier this week the Salvation Army announced it would install new lights, remove public phones, add extra security guards and step up cleaning at its Booth Centre in the ByWard Market.

The changes come after Ottawa police conducted two safety audits this past summer, the Salvation Army said in a media release.

The announcement came several days after a stabbing on the west side of the Salvation Army building claimed the life of 30-year-old Kayla Sullivan. A man in his 30s was also stabbed in the chest and taken to hospital in serious condition.

Safety changes include:

  • New lights on the front and sides of the building.
  • Removing public phones from the lobby to discourage drug dealing.
  • More staff presence in the front of the building.
  • More sweeping and pressure-washing.
  • More garbage bins.
  • The hiring of two additional security guards to patrol the building 24/7 and assist police.

The Salvation Army has also asked Ottawa Public Health to move a syringe drop-off box.

But the agency has decided not to create a smoking area behind the building because "a recent report resulting from a police study does not recommend this option due to a number of safety issues," the Salvation Army said in its release.

'How can I ... say they're good operators?'

Rideau–Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury disputed that claim in an interview Wednesday and said the safety changes that were made were the "easy" ones.

"[The report] doesn't say you can't [put in a smoking area]. It says if you do it, you'll have to put in measures to make it safe," Fleury said, adding that a designated smoking area at the rear of the building would reduce the number of vulnerable persons standing around on George Street.

He can't recommend the shelter as a good tenant at any possible future location, he said.

"The problem is that we can't turn around to any community in our city and say, 'Hey, Salvation Army will build a new purpose-built shelter, something that looks like the YMCA downtown where you'll have public access to a pool, amenity space and so on,' because how can I ... say they're good operators of their current shelter?

"I can't say that today. There's a lot of work and public confidence that needs to be built up."

'There's other options'

The Booth centre's executive director, Marc Provost, said it's been a particularly challenging year with the number of people loitering at the shelter, many of whom aren't tenants of the shelter and whose behaviour therefore can't be enforced by Salvation Army.

As for the smoking shelter issue, Provost said the police didn't think it was a safe option.

"There's other options, however, and we're working on that right now. So I'm encouraged by that," he said, but wouldn't specify what those options were.

"Well that's part of the ongoing dialogue. We are happy to be conversing with the BIA, with different bodies, to kind of tweak things as we go along. An ongoing dialogue is what's important."