Hundreds turned away from meeting on Vanier Salvation Army shelter

About 600 people tried to pack into the Richelieu-Vanier Community Centre Monday night for a meeting about the Salvation Army's proposal to build a multipurpose community hub and emergency shelter.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury says he received 300 emails, 100 phone calls about the proposal

Coun. Mathieu Fleury addresses the overflow crowd at a community meeting about the Salvation Army's proposed shelter on Montreal Road. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

About 600 people tried to pack into the Richelieu-Vanier Community Centre Monday night for a meeting about the Salvation Army's proposal to build a multipurpose community hub and emergency shelter.

The capacity in the auditorium was just more than 300 people. All seats were taken, forcing many to stand, but hundreds of people had to be turned away.

"It's good because it shows how united we are," Coun. Mathieu Fleury said. "It's a city-wide issue, but the community of Vanier certainly demonstrated this evening that we're all together, that we don't think 333 Montreal Rd. is an adequate site."

Vanier resident Adam Freed was among the hundreds of people turned away from the meeting. (CBC)

The meeting was a "discussion, not a consultation," he said. The purpose was to ask residents to help develop a strategy to get the Salvation Army and the City of Ottawa to hear their concerns.

Fleury said he wants the Salvation Army to put a pause on its project and consider spreading the services it would offer from a new building near its current thrift store across multiple sites.

Another meeting is being planned for 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Knights of Columbus on Montreal Road, and more may be held in the future, Fleury said.

'It's not right'

Many residents who couldn't make it into the auditorium were frustrated. One woman shouted when the door opened that she wanted to get in. While some abandoned the meeting, others waited outside until they could get in or snuck in through other entrances.

Adam Freed, who recently bought a house on Montfort to raise his young family, is one of the people who was turned away.

"We feel that our lives are being derailed, financially, and we don't feel comfortable raising our young family there any more," he said.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury talks to residents about the proposed shelter. The Richelieu-Vanier Community Centre auditorium was filled to capacity. (CBC)

He's concerned about increased car traffic on his street and the possibility the shelter could attract more panhandling and drug use to the neighbourhood.

"It's not right. This a residential neighbourhood that's trying to improve. Montreal Road is supposed to be a road where there's an increase and better quality businesses," he said.

'Other people in Ottawa should pick up part of the burden'

Paul Heinbecker, formerly one of Canada's top diplomats and a Vanier resident since the 1970s, said the area has a problem with payday loans and marijuana shops, and that it already houses several social support centres.

"It isn't that Vanier doesn't want to help these people. Vanier is already doing its share for the less fortunate people of Ottawa and it's time the other people in Ottawa should pick up part of the burden," he said.

The 103,000-square-foot proposed facility with 350 beds — 140 of them earmarked for short-term, emergency stays — would "foreclose" a promising future for the neighbourhood, Heinbecker added.

Paul Heinbecker, who has lived in Vanier since the 1970s, said the proposed shelter could halt the revitalization of the neighbourhood. (CBC)

Some people said they feel as though the decision has already been made to build the facility in Vanier, and that the problems at the ByWard Market shelters are just being swept into their community. 

"There is emotion. I think people who live in Vanier often feel hard done by, that Vanier is considered not very nice, so we can do whatever we want there, " said Anna Lenk.

'Not having all of the facts'

Fleury told attendees the Salvation Army's proposal is not a done deal and still needs to go through the zoning process.

"We want the Salvation Army to put a halt on [the re-zoning application] and take a step back. The community wants to work with the Salvation Army, wants to identify a location," he said.

"There's a great element to the announcement, which is an investment of over $30 million in our city."

Glenn van Gulik, a spokesperson for the Salvation Army who was eventually able to get inside for the meeting, said the Salvation Army remains open to hearing from the community about how it can improve its project.

"There is confusion, there is fear in some cases," he said afterward. "I think I a lot of that stems from perhaps not having all of the facts not having all the information at hand."

Glenn Van Gulik, spokesperson for the Salvation Army, attended the community meeting about his organization's proposal for a new shelter in Vanier. (CBC)

However, when asked if the organization would choose a different location, he has said the site selection was the result of a process that involved consultation with the city, businesses and service providers.

Fleury questions the extent of the consultation, saying the Salvation Army spoke to the social services branch of the city, but not other parts of the bureaucracy.

Van Gulik said the organization has already met with the Quartier Vanier BIA and condominium corporations near the site and will be holding consultations into October.