My closing statements from Planning Committee and Council regarding Salvation Army

My closing statements from Planning Committee on Friday November 17th

It is essential to begin by stating that the organization, The Salvation Army (SA), has been a long standing and valued service provider in Ottawa, in Canada, and around the world. The work that they do is needed, and I’m sure that everyone here agrees with that.

However, I have strong concerns – and these concerns have been echoed by many – that the SA project in Ottawa is not a good fit for for the community, not a good fit for a mainstreet, not in line with approved policies of Council and not in line with the goals of the City’s 10 year housing and homelessness plan.  

Unfortunately, this project does not advance the discussion nor the reality for our City’s most vulnerable residents. As the Nation’s Capital, we embrace the expectations from other municipalities of being on the leading edge for innovation and best practices.

According to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study Vanier has the lowest average income level in the City. We know that mixed income communities are what foster strong and healthy communities and this proposal would create further disparity and stigmatization of an already very vulnerable area of our city.  Further, for those that have invested in the Quartier Vanier, both businesses and homeowners, they deserve the predictability of their investments as that relates to the Official Plan.

The Salvation Army has been clear that they chose Vanier because of the many needs in my community. As the Ward Councillor for the area, I work on a daily basis to improve my community, just like you do in your community.

We do have certain struggles in Vanier, I don’t shy away from that, and currently we face some very real social issues. I want to be clear, when I speak of Vanier, I don’t mean the Ottawa-Vanier ridding (which also includes Tim and Tobi’s ward), I am not even speaking of my entire community, I am speaking of the old City of Vanier borders.  With all the confusion that the SA presented, it is important to remind folks what these borders are: to the North Beechwood avenue, to the South Donald and to the east rue de l’église (Tobi will forgive me for the small border creep) and to the west the Ottawa River, basically one square mile.

Our challenges are prostitution, drug use, needs for our First Nation and Inuit community and many homeless families which remain much at risk.

My question to the Salvation Army is this -How does your project intend to address the Vanier issues?

Members of council, you heard from close to 200 delegations these last few days. I would like to thank you for your attention and presence on these long days. The delegations highlighted many considerations on why the proposal should or should not be approved. I deeply appreciate that my colleagues, both on Planning Committee and member of Council who care about the debate have attended the meetings this week to give the time and consideration to the members of our City who have taken the time to speak to us, on this very important report.

Here is how the Salvation Army could have planned their initiative to ensure alignment with City goals and broader community buy in, here is my perspective on a solution:

1- Hosting a sector wide day forum on current S.A. service evaluation and future community needs review

2- Working with City, the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study, CPO, OPH, ATEH, and others in the community to validate the findings

3- Presenting with support from all social and housing sector partners a Salvation Army- Ottawa Strategic plan reflecting those goals

4- Challenging local architects to design spaces that meet those goals

5- Challenging government, landowners and philanthropists to present projects and locations that reflect these future needs and leverage the architecture design on multiple sites

6- Proceed; as most of the presented sites and vision would have received validation from the broader community.

Instead they chose the option that is most controversial, most expensive, and most divisive.  

As the Chair and City Solicitor mentioned at the beginning of this committee, the choice is NOT between the community hub and the status quo. Rather, the matter before Planning Committee today are:

  1. Whether you believe a traditional main street is an appropriate location for a shelter
  2. Whether the Official Plan, the Secondary Plan and the study results from the Interim Control By law in 2008 are relevant;
  3. Whether the size and scope of the project is appropriate for Montreal road; and
  4. Frankly, whether the applicant has gone through the appropriate planning process from a City planning perspective.

I would highlight for Planning Committee members what a NO vote today means.

A NO today does not mean you don’t support the SA; we all support the work and effort from the Salvation Army.

A NO today does not mean you don’t support a Hub shelter model

A No vote means one or more of the following:

1- you believe this is not the appropriate land use for this site

2- you believe this is not the appropriate land use for mainstreets

3- you believe the proposal did not respect the public consultation process

4- you believe the scope and scale of the project are not appropriate for this site.

5- you believe not enough thought was given to the impact of this relocation on the health and balance of the local community. 

Finally, a no vote is not the end, it simply brings the Salvation Army’s planning proposal to a halt so that options in terms of locations and approach can be worked out. My door has always been open and my sleeves are rolled to work with the Salvation Army, work with the City, work with the community and work with you to bring forward a solution supported by all.

For all these reasons, I urge you, my colleagues, to vote against the proposal put forward today because it deepens the imbalances in my community, it does not align with the City’s approved planning goals, with our council approved policy goals, nor the City’s vision for Ottawa’s most vulnerable residents. If you are homeless what you need is a home, sure you might need services but that doesn’t mean we should institutionalize our most vulnerable in one location.

My closing statements from council on Wednesday November 22nd

I want to begin by thanking my community for coming, in record numbers, to the Planning Committee last week to present a united voice not to support the Salvation Army proposal.

Vanier is strong, Vanier is united and this no matter the vote today. In the end, Vanier will win. Remember Monfort.

Vanier was supported by many. I want to particularly thank the Lowertown community for the maturity in coming forward in opposing the proposal to not replicate the issues that exist today in the ByWard Market.

The reason we are here is because a “shelter” is not a permitted use at this proposed location. It is not a permitted use on our mainstreets and that is clear in our Official Plan, nor was it ever considered in the Secondary Plan for Montreal Road (approved in 2014).

It is a tragedy that this application came down to a vote on land-use planning grounds. We expect more from an organization that is in existence to help our community’s most vulnerable members (funded by government and public donors). The applicant could have chosen sites that had a permitted shelter use, which there are many locations in our City. We then would not have found ourselves in this position.

Salvation Army decided to move forward with the most controversial approach, the most expensive and the most divisive.

The City of Ottawa, in 2016, spent $4.6 million more to support shelters than what we had planned. This model is draining our resources and minimizing the shift to invest in a lasting solution: housing.

As a government, I think it is important to be open and transparent, and be clear on where gaps are. Although we have housed 350 chronic homeless individuals in 8 supportive housing projects that are truly decentralized across the City, the reality is that more investments in supportive housing are needed to see a reduction in shelter use.

When council approved the 10 year Housing and Homelessness Plan, seven years ago, many of you were around to approve the plan, and we knew full well that the goal was to decentralize and close our shelters.

Let me remind us all of that implication: a closure of shelters to invest in specialized housing projects like those presented by the Mission and Shepherds of Good Hope, who are decentralizing their services, the Oaks on Merrivale, Hope Living in Kanata, Life House in Centretown… etc.  The decentralization is towards new models. The closure of shelters was planned to be by attrition towards new decentralized services.
A vote against the proposal today does not under any circumstances call into question the Salvation Army or even their services. The risk of institutionalizing a population is serious. And the question before us is one of zoning, it is especially clear that no plan, approved by the council, allows this type of use on a main street.

The assertion that this proposal contains only 140 shelter beds is a ruse and it is insulting. A shelter, according to the City definition, means an establishment providing temporary accommodation to individuals who are in immediate need of emergency accommodation and food, and may include ancillary health care, counselling and social support services (refuge).

The proposal at 333 Montreal Road offers exactly that, temporary accommodation. As It does not offer a home to any of the individuals who would stay in any of the 350 beds- the use is temporary in nature, and it cannot fall under any other category.

Staff agreed with important components from the 2008 report. Specifically, staff have agreed that there is a shelter cap of 4 shelters in ward 12, and also to the separation distances needed between shelters (page 9 of the Planning Report).

However, what they refuse to acknowledge is that there are 12 shelters currently in operation in Ward 12. There are the two motels with City agreements for family shelter along Montreal Road, and there are 6 shelters for women fleeing situations of violence.

Not a single delegation who spoke in favour of the project could explain why they thought the location on a traditional main street was the best approach. Yes, there were differing opinions on the model – which we were told was outside of consideration for planning committee. However, nothing was presented that would justify putting 350 shelter beds on a main street.

My community is the one with the lowest income earning compared to other neighborhoods in town. We often talk on council about the importance of economic and demographic diversification.
The mistake is not only in urban planning but also at the social level. Vanier has come a long way, the Crime Prevention Ottawa initiatives have helped a lot at this level, but we remain at risk.

Main streets are the economic lifeblood of our communities. Vanier has worked hard to remove the stigma of criminality that’s haunted it since the 90’s. The diversity is improving but it is far from being on solid ground. Much attention and efforts are needed and it begins with important attention to Montreal Road.

My community is not afraid of welcoming social services/social service providers – we have many including one of the 8 supportive housing models recently built by the John Howard Society – to no opposition might I add. Those were 42 men who came from Shepherds of Good Hope.

We are afraid that a community with concentrated poverty would jeopardize the healthy reintegration of individuals into active members of City.

Dear colleagues, soyez courageux.  A NO is not the end; it simply brings the Salvation Army planning proposal to a halt so that options in terms of locations and approach can be considered. My door has always been open and my sleeves are rolled to work with the Salvation Army, work with the City, work with the community, and work with you to bring forward a solution supported by all.

The status quo is a short term option while we work through in collaboration with the Salvation Army on how to best invest the $50 million.

If you are homeless what you need is a home. Sure you might need services but that doesn’t mean we should institutionalize our most vulnerable in one location.