'You're going to see protests': Vanier residents determined to fight Salvation Army move
More than 500 people attended second community meeting on Friday
Residents and business owners in Vanier are organizing against a proposed Salvation Army shelter after two community meetings draw over 1,000 people.
The second community meeting organized by Coun. Mathieu Fleury drew more than 500 people at the Knights of Columbus on McArthur Avenue on Friday. More than 300 people attended Monday's meeting and hundreds were turned away.
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Residents discussed strategies to oppose the location of the Salvation Army's proposed $50 million multi-purpose facility with 350 beds — 140 of which will be for short-term, emergency stays — at 333 Montreal Rd.
After learning about the proposal to move the shelter from its current George Street location in the ByWard Market, Vanier residents expressed concerns about crime, loitering and drug use in an area struggling to attract a better mix of businesses.
Drew Dobson, the owner of Finnegans Pub on Montreal Road next to the proposed shelter site, is organizing the opposition campaign.
"We've gone with the theme SOS Vanier," Dobson said Friday night. "You're going to see signs on the streets. You're going to see t-shirts. You're going to see protests."
'Breaking point for the community'
Dobson said the community has had to scramble since the Salvation Army announced its proposal late last month.
"They did a lot of the work before they went public, so that's put us behind the eight ball, but we've started getting organized," he said. "We have about 600 people on our immediate contact list. We have about 1,750 names on a petition."
Dobson said people from outside the neighbourhood have told him they're sympathetic to Vanier's concerns.
"I think people recognize that Vanier is a socially disadvantaged area of the city," he said. "And they realize there's a lot of social services already in Vanier. I think they've come to realize adding this might be the breaking point for the community."
Frustration at mayor
On Wednesday, Mayor Jim Watson said the Salvation Army did a "thorough job of considering a number of different locations" before choosing 333 Montreal Rd.
"Seventy per cent of their clientele are from the Vanier area. They have to have some site that is within walking or reasonable bus distance for their clientele," he said. "These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society that need our help. No matter where the site is chosen, there's going to be opposition."
Several residents raised frustration with the mayor's apparent endorsement of the proposed site. Mathieu Deshais lives a few blocks from the proposed location.
"All this could be a moot point, unless we get Mr. Watson on board and get him involved and get him to listen to us. Because right now, he's not listening," Deshais said in the meeting to applause from the room.
Coun. Mathieu Fleury, whose ward includes Vanier, declined to comment on what Watson said about the proposed site.
But he did say the mayor is just one vote on city council and encouraged residents to talk to friends across the city and get them to contact their councillors about the issue.
"To me, I'm focused on the needs of my community, what I'm hearing from our community," he said. "I'm not opposed to [the Salvation Army's] investment. I think it's needed. Their current location is less than ideal. The mayor recognizes that."
Fleury was asked if he could push for a moratorium on the development similar to the one recently placed on bunkhouses in Sandy Hill on Wednesday. He told the meeting he would need to see if that would be appropriate.
Salvation Army consultations
Friday's meeting attracted some people who were still considering their position on the Salvation Army's proposal.
Andres Medina, a landlord and contractor in the neighbourhood, said he came to the meeting to get more information and that he's concerned what the move could mean for his business and his one-and-half-year-old son.
"I'll make my decision whether I'm for it or against it. Because I'm all for improvement, but if it's going to create more crime or more loitering, then it's not a good idea," he said.
Larisa Dabeka, a Vanier resident, has come out in support of the shelter's proposed move to her neighbourhood. She described the community response as a "gut reaction."
"Vanier already has a lot of people in need and I think this facility will just give them a place where they can get the help that they need," she said. "Right now they have to travel downtown to do this. But this would be great for the community, I think."
Dominique Boivin said the issue has taken a David vs. Goliath tone, with the neighbourhood in the role of grassroots underdog.
"I deplore the Salvation Army for not recognizing the effect on the neighbourhood that they already are in and ignoring the issues in our community," Boivin said.
The Salvation Army has said the design of the new purpose-built facility will help contain the safety issues that have plagued its ByWard Market location.
One woman walked up to Salvation Army spokesperson Glenn Van Gulik and told him she felt the organization was being dishonest as he watched the meeting from the back of the auditorium.
"I would love to respond to that publicly, but again we haven't been invited to be participants in these meetings. As much as we have asked to be a part of it. The councillor has asked us not to," Van Gulik said.
Councillor mulling 3rd community meeting
Fleury said there may be a third information session next week if there is interest from residents.
Van Gulik said the Salvation Army is discussing with the city when formal consultations will begin, likely in late August or September.
He said the organization is having meetings with the Quartier Vanier BIA, the Vanier Community Association and the residents and tenants of a condo near the proposed site.