Vanier shelter report a sign Ottawa is 'going backwards,' critics say

Vanier residents say they're disappointed by the revelation from their councillor that a draft report may suggest giving a controversial shelter on Montreal Road the go-ahead.

Draft report may support building 350-bed facility on Montreal Road

Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, the NDP's critic for health and francophone affairs, speaks at a meeting Saturday about a proposed Salvation Army shelter set to be built in Ottawa's Vanier neighbourhood. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Vanier residents say they're disappointed by the revelation from their councillor that a draft report may suggest giving a controversial homeless shelter on Montreal Road the go-ahead.

"It seems that not all the voices or the comments of the residents have been taken into consideration," said Suzanne Lepine, one of a few dozen people who attended Saturday's public forum on the Salvation Army shelter project.

The Salvation Army intends to close its existing shelter on George Street in the ByWard Market and sell it to help pay for a new $50-million facility in Vanier, which would be home to counselling, job training and medical services.

Of the facility's 350 beds, 140 would be reserved for emergency stays, according to the proposal.

An artist's rendering of a proposed 103,000-square-foot Salvation Army facility on Montreal Road, which would have 350 shelter beds and would replace a rundown hotel. (Salvation Army)

Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who represents the area, told CBC News on Friday that a draft city report expected to be made public in early November is recommending the project be greenlighted.

CBC News has not seen a copy of that report.

Shelter based on 'outdated' programs

"I'm shocked. That's all I can say," said Tim Aubry, a University of Ottawa psychology professor who's been a strong proponent of the housing first model of tackling homelessness. The program pairs individuals with landlords in the city, while also offering counselling and other supports.

"I think [that draft report] is a reflection that Ottawa's going backwards … That's one of the big problems with the Salvation Army project. It's based on, quite frankly, the delivery of outdated programs," Aubry said.

Tim Aubry, a University of Ottawa psychology professor, said he fears Ottawa's plans for a proposed 350-bed facility on Montreal Road is a sign that the city is 'going backwards.' (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

The housing first approach hasn't always worked seamlessly, as one landlord recently discovered after a tenant trashed one unit of his duplex — which was also located in Vanier.

Aubry said those instances are rare and outweighed by extensive research showing the benefits of a housing first approach.

Lepine, a lifelong Vanier resident who lives only a few blocks away from the proposed shelter, said she agreed.

"I think housing first is a model that the community of Vanier could live with," Lepine said. "People could be integrated. It's a good approach, versus the Salvation Army proposal."

Days of discussion

Three dates have then been set aside in November for the city's planning committee to consider the shelter's rezoning application.

The Salvation Army has said it wants to relocate to Vanier because that's where its clients are. Opposition, however, has been steady, and many at Saturday's forum vowed to bring their concerns to the planning committee debate.

[The city] treats the people of Vanier as an afterthought at best.- Paul Heinbecker

"I'm frustrated with the way the city is behaving. It treats the people of Vanier as an afterthought at best, and a place it can dump social problems at worst," said Vanier resident Paul Heinbecker.

"All you have to do is take one look at George Street, and the Salvation Army centre down there, and ask yourself whether you'd like that situation to be in your neighbourhood."

Vanier resident Paul Heinbecker says he'll be making his voice heard next month when the Salvation Army's controversial shelter proposal is debated for three days at the city's planning committee. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

The NDP riding association, which hosted Saturday's forum, will be making a submission to the planning committee, urging it to endorse "a more decentralized and small-scale approach."

The whole spectrum is often part of the solution.- NDP MPP France Gélinas

"I know that the community right now is facing a decision. This decision has been polarized. Not everybody agrees," said Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, the party's health critic, who also spoke at Saturday's forum.

Gélinas said she understood the conflict at the heart of the Montreal Road shelter debate, having dealt with a similar issue over a "wet shelter" — a facility that would hand out doctor-prescribed alcohol to residents dealing with addiction issues — in Sudbury.

She refused to weigh in on the Salvation Army's proposal, calling shelters an "integral part" of the strategy to fight homelessness, but also lauding the housing first approach.

Critiquing the project was best left to Vanier residents themselves, Gélinas added.

"I would say the whole spectrum is often part of the solution," she said. "[But] it varies with every community." 

The city's official shelter report is expected to be made public on Nov. 7.