A community leader on Losing Faith Re: Kelly Egan: Let Politicians Lose Faith

A community leader on Losing Faith Re: Kelly Egan: Let Politicians Lose Faith

Over the last several months, I have met with staff at the Salvation Army to address growing concerns about safety issues on George Street. In light of the recent homicide, I spoke out publicly about my diminished faith in the Salvation Army’s ability to provide a safe environment.

To set the record straight, when it comes to emergency shelters, I have faith that shelters are equipped to respond to a wide variety of high-risk complex needs on a short-term basis.  I believe that shelters are a vital resource, offering short-term emergency refuge, to our most vulnerable population. Though the issues are complex, it is important not to confuse the subject at hand.  I am concerned, like many members of the community, that accessing the services at the Salvation Army on George Street is unsafe. I have lost faith in the ability of the Salvation Army to assure the safety of the people who are accessing the services at their shelter on George Street.

Though shelters have historically been church-based organizations offering emergency housing, they have since evolved into established coordinated professional organizations that are funded by the City, through the province. As a City-funded service provider, the Salvation Army has a responsibility to ensure the safety of their clients and the community.

The mounting issues surrounding the Salvation Army Booth Centre, especially pertaining to the open drug activity, threaten the safety of the clients and the greater community.  While many aspects of the situation (addictions and mental health) are complex in nature, it is vital for the community to work together to identify workable solutions, which includes addressing the safety and behavioural issues on the street.  I believe that the clients of the Salvation Army deserve safe access to services and that those living and working in the area deserve a safe community.

The challenge involves identifying responsibility; no matter if the source of the issues is the Salvation Army, City of Ottawa Social Services or Ottawa Police Services.  Responsibility can be misconstrued, and it can be easy to confuse the situation assuming that any person standing on the sidewalk near the Salvation Army is their client.

This confusion is an important aspect in identifying solutions. By taking the lead in protecting their clients in a monitored designated smoking area, the Salvation Army would benefit by effectively identifying their stake in the issue and allow the community stakeholders to take responsibility for theirs.   While this issue is likely not the responsibility of a singular organization, by taking the lead in properly identifying and protecting their clients from the addiction vultures along George Street near Cumberland, the Salvation Army can identify the need for other organizations, like the Ottawa Police, to step up and address other aspects of the issue.

The Salvation Army has offered to provide 24-hour security services on their property. While this is commendable, an effort of this nature should be permanent and coordinated amongst the stakeholders on the street, not only a short-term response to immediate pressure that would simply push the issues further down the street.  These increased security measures can improve the situation, but ultimately, it is the Ottawa Police that are responsible for public safety.  Police need to respond more consistently to the open drug activity that occurs daily on this block beyond putting the onus of the residents and businesses to call throughout any given day.

Through my many roles at the City, as Ward Councillor, Chair of Ottawa Community Housing, board member for Ottawa Public Health, member of the Community and Protective Services Committee, former co-chair for the United Way campaign, and as an active volunteer at our downtown shelters, I have had the opportunity to work closely with the stakeholders in the community to diversify and modernize their offerings towards housing and supports.  I am a strong advocate for vibrant, safe, inclusive and diverse communities.

The City of Ottawa is striving towards the modernization of our services to focus on housing and supports.  Many shelter providers are gearing towards providing specialized supports. If the goal of the Salvation Army is to become the only emergency shelter in our City, while Ottawa Mission and Shepherds of Good Hope move their model to housing and support away from the shelter stays, then they need to build confidence that they can manage and offer a safe environment for our most vulnerable residents to access their services with dignity.

Ultimately, the Salvation Army needs to ensure that the community and their clients are safe to access the property by taking a leadership role on George Street and by engaging the Ottawa Police Services to commit on going resources, throughout the market, including the great need at George and Cumberland.

Thank you to all of those who have reached out, commented and provided ideas about the situation.  The issues are complex and we need a more collaborative and inclusive solution.