THE OPPOSING ARMY
Dozens speak at shelter hearing
Councillors tasked with approving or rejecting an application by the Salvation Army to build a shelter and health complex in Vanier are caught between their planning experts who have signed off on the plan and dozens of people who attended city hall on Tuesday to oppose the proposal.
More than 160 people signed up to address council’s planning committee on the Salvation Army’s application, making it one of the most contentious issues during Mayor Jim Watson’s administration.
The committee could take up to three days to hear all of the residents before making a recommendation to council, which is scheduled to vote on Nov. 22. About 30 people addressed the committee on Tuesday.
The Salvation Army wants to build a shelter and health facility at 333 Montreal Rd., where the Concorde Motel currently exists. The operations from the Booth Centre in the ByWard Market would be moved to Vanier and the Salvation Army’s building in the market would be sold.
Residents lined up to blast the Salvation Army’s proposal.
Carleton University urbanism professor Benjamin Gianni, who also lives in Vanier, said the Salvation Army ’s facility would “erode” a struggling neighbourhood and he criticized the organization for not saying how the complex would affect the community.
“It’s downright negligent,” Gianni said.
“We’re going to end up with a Downtown East Side image,” Louise Levesque said, referring to the infamous Vancouver neighbourhood.
“It will preclude business and residential investment in the area and as a result it will lead to a reversal to what we’ve seen in economic development on Montreal Road,” Vanier resident and economist Randall Bartlett said.
Tim Aubry, a University of Ottawa researcher who lives in Orléans, said the city needs emergency shelters, but not the size the Salvation Army wants to build in Vanier.
“And we should get people out of them as quickly as possible, and we now have the social know-how to do that,” Aubry said, emphasizing the city’s buy-in to a “housing first” homelessness strategy.
Vanier businesses are also sounding the warning bells.
Quelque Chose Patisserie owner David Seba said Vanier residents would rather shop in his Westboro bakery than at his flagship one in Vanier.
“Things are getting worse in Vanier,” Seba said, alleging that his sales dropped as soon as the Salvation Army announced its intention last June to relocate the shelter to Vanier.
Cathie Orfali, who will soon open a financial planning business in Vanier, said that if council changes the land-use rules for 333 Montreal Rd. to allow a shelter, it would be sending a message to other business investors: “Watch out. Invest at your own risk.”
Maher Arar, the man who was falsely accused as a terrorist and received a multimillion-dollar settlement from the federal government, owns a building on Montreal Road and worries about his business investment if the Salvation Army builds the facility.
“If you approve it, it will make a lot of people suffer,” Arar told the committee.
Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier and MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers, who both attended the planning committee meeting, have also written to council questioning the Salvation Army’s proposal.
The proposed complex would have 140 emergency shelter beds, 100 beds for men in various support programs, 50 beds for men in an addiction and rehabilitation program and 60 beds for men requiring specialized health care. The building would be six storeys at its tallest point and have an outdoor amenity space.
City planners don’t have a problem with a land-use amendment to allow a shelter to operate on the property, but the decision is ultimately up to council.
Salvation Army staff told councillors its Vanier complex would be a major improvement to its current Booth Centre facility on George Street. They said the whole building wouldn’t be a shelter, even though residents and some councillors challenged them on what all the beds would actually be used for.
Opponents largely question the appropriateness of the emergency shelter component of the proposed complex.
Social agencies came to the Salvation Army’s defence.
Marie-Josée Houle of the Action-Logement housing organization, which is also located in the building owned by Arar, supports the Salvation Army’s plan because it will be purpose-built to help homeless people in the centraleast community.
“They will have a place to go,” Houle told councillors, noting that “homelessness in Ottawa continues to grow.”
Deirdre Freiheit, president and chief executive of the Shepherds of Good Hope, said Ottawa continues to need emergency shelters because there’s a lack of affordable housing.
Ottawa Inner City Health backed the Salvation Army, too.
Coun. Jan Harder, chair of the planning committee, said the committee’s decision must be based on “sound land-use planning principles.”
Harder said no one will be able to ask about potential funding for the Salvation Army, housing programs and the characteristics of the people who will be clients of the proposed facility.
Public delegates and councillors have been talking about those issues anyway.
A lawyer representing some Vanier businesses wouldn’t be deterred, either.
“It is fair ball to talk about the users of this facility and the impact on the neighbourhood,” Michael Polowin said.
The committee meeting continues on Wednesday.
We’re going to end up with a Downtown East Side image.
Ottawa City Hall council chamber was packed Tuesday as the planning committee heard submissions on the Salvation Army’s plan to relocate its ByWard Market shelter to a new complex to be built in Vanier. Most in attendance were opposed the plans.