‘I AM SADDENED TO SEE THIS’
City bylaw officers have ordered an Ottawa landlord to remove large posters from his Murray Street property, depicting paintings of world leaders sitting on toilets with blunt and crude messages that are aimed at the neighbouring Shepherds of Good Hope.The posters show a series of paintings by Italian artist Cristina Guggeri with leaders such as the Dalai Lama, Angela Merkel, Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth sitting on toilets. On the posters, the words “What I see makes me $#!T” are added in large black type. Along the bottom, it says “Wow wow wow, The Great Ottawa Zoo …” Another shows three bottles of wine with the words “Charity Program for Alcoholics Only.”Gaetan Lemieux, who owns five rental properties on Murray Street near the shelter, said he put up the seven posters because he is tired of the situation on the street. He said he is the only remaining private property owner on the stretch of Murray between King Edward Avenue and Cumberland Street, which includes three buildings used by Shepherds. Over the years, he said, he has bought properties from longterm residents who wanted to leave the street, but were unable to sell.“The signs are there to express, after 35 years, the dissatisfaction with what is happening on the street. As a citizen, I cannot allow this street to be destroyed by people who do not live here.”Lemieux, a retired senior economist with the federal government, said people from the shelter and its services regularly eat, vomit, defecate and urinate on his properties and make tenants feel unsafe. He referred to them as an “army of junkies.”He said Ottawa bylaw officials told him to remove the signs or they would take them down and charge him. Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury confirmed city bylaw officials acted after receiving a complaint about the posters. Fleury said the city’s legal department is also investigating the language on the posters.“I am saddened to see this,” Fleury said of the signs. “I don’t know why somebody would spend any energy on that instead of being part of the solution.”Deirdre Freiheit, executive director at Shepherds, said the charitable social services and homeless organization does “the best we can to be really good neighbours.” She said they have an excellent relationship with residents of the condo building next door, meeting with them regularly to hear about and act on any concerns. Freiheit said Lemieux “has not been open to having a conversation with us” and claimed he has been abusive with staff and clients over the years.“I would be happy to meet with him,” she said. “If he would like to sit down and have a respectful conversation, we would be more than happy to do that. It is unfortunate he feels this way. I understand there are concerns, but we need to work together to try to resolve them.” Generally, she said, people in the neighbourhood support the organization and even volunteer.Residents of the Shepherds of Good Hope went about their business in the shadow of the posters Thursday, many expressing their anger at the messages. “It’s morally degrading,” said Richard, who wouldn’t give his last name.Richard said he often picks up trash from the sidewalk in front of the rental units and has been thanked by the property owner for doing so. But he said the message from the posters was insulting.“If he wants to spew something, he should do it somewhere else,” Richard said, adding he was particularly offended by the use of the Queen’s image to attack the homeless.“None of those people (depicted in the posters) have said anything bad about us.”Lemieux became the only private property owner on the block somewhat by accident. He said he purchased property at 229 Murray next to Shepherds 35 years ago, not knowing the neighbourhood. He quickly decided he had made a mistake, he said, but couldn’t sell the house.Subsequently, neighbours who had lived there for years began coming to him asking him to buy their properties so they could leave. He said he wanted to “gather those properties together to establish a presence of good citizenship so that maybe we can resist the assault.”He said he is only able to rent the properties short-term with no leases and mainly to foreign students or people in Ottawa on contracts. He said he has put up fences that have become ever higher over the years after property has been destroyed, bikes have been stolen repeatedly and people have slept on balconies, vomited, defecated and urinated on the properties. “I have tenants trying to sleep who are in rooms facing the street.”He noted the owner of a granite business on King Edward received death threats after starting a petition in which he said Shepherds had become a cancer on the neighbourhood.“We the citizens are not invited to speak. We are cornered in silence.”Fleury said Shepherds works hard to try to decentralize its services and now has programs located around the city, including in Kanata.He said he hears concerns about drug users in the area, especially near busy King Edward Avenue. Shepherds, he said, is focused on more supportive housing and decentralizing its services.He suggested Lemieux take a positive approach.“Everyone is entitled to their own opinions,” he said. “But to target an organization that is trying to do its best, that is trying to help very vulnerable citizens — I don’t understand what goals he has. Are we in a better position tomorrow because of (the signs)?”
A landlord who owns five rental properties on Murray Street near the Shepherds of Good Hope has been told to remove these posters.
One Shepherds of Good Hope resident has described nearby posters with messages taking aim at the shelter as “morally degrading.”
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