Why we oppose the 333 Montreal Road Salvation Army Proposal

As a community, we are opposed to the relocation of the Salvation Army services to Montreal Road. Let us not confuse that opposition for a lack of interest in helping our most vulnerable community members, as both are not mutually exclusive. We collectively recognize the importance of supporting those who need help but fundamentally believe the Salvation Army’s approach in supporting them needs to evolve. Relocating the current service hub and shelter from George Street into a new building will bring the same challenges and outcomes. To help our most vulnerable residents, we need to innovate, decentralize and offer services based on research and best practices.

The status quo is not an option

The Ottawa Booth Centre cannot stay on George Street. It is no longer safe for our City’s most vulnerable population and Salvation Army employees. There are major issues with the current built form – an old school converted into multiple housing units and shelter, and the range of other services simply does not work anymore.  Security challenges are also ongoing. A concentration of incompatible service offerings, and generally poor standards of accommodations for clients makes it obvious for the need to see investments in our City. It is illogical and counterproductive to have long-term work programs in an emergency shelter and rehabilitation services in proximity to active drug users. We need to guide the Salvation Army towards the decentralization of their services as these investments could offer a fundamental shift in the long run.

We are saying “NO” to the chosen location

Don’t get us wrong, the Salvation Army’s recent announcement of a $30+ million investment is welcomed in the City of Ottawa. However, striking the right balance in a community is important, and we are seeing key improvements in the Vanier area. We have Business Improvement Associations (BIA) in our City that are responsible for representing the business community on our main streets. An emergency shelter does not currently align with the goals of those main streets. The revitalization of the Montreal Road in 2019 will include re-investments in the infrastructure such as new and improved sidewalks, light fixtures, benches, trees, etc. When the City conducted a review of the zoning along Montreal Road in 2014, the City’s Official Plan did not even consider or permit the use of a shelter. A part of Salvation Army’s proposal is to request that the Plan be amended to include a shelter. While we are making progress in Vanier, we continue to face challenges related to mental health, drugs and prostitution. We have a variety of existing and active service providers to help those most vulnerable. 333 Montreal Road is located in the heart of a residential and family area. Many families with young children are concerned about their safety, and the access and proximity of the building. While Vanier is a welcoming community that has worked hard to bring positive changes, I believe that the Salvation Army needs to reconsider their proposal and offer a variety of services dispersed throughout the City.

We need to align with the City’s 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan

In 2013, the City adopted the 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan. This strategy addresses the need to ensure that residents have access to affordable housing and supports while establishing key goals such as a strong collaboration among service providers to end chronic homelessness. Through its conception, many service providers have already identified ways to modernize their service delivery to meet today’s and tomorrow’s needs and approaches. The Oaks, Hope Living, Gardener Street project, Maison fraternité are some examples offering small specialized services in locations across the City that have all proven their success in offering housing with the supports that are needed.

We need to decentralize the services

A mega-centre that encloses 350 men-only beds is not the right model. Putting drug dealers, recovering addicts and new arrivals in the same centralized area can only harm the community and its most vulnerable members. Taking George Street’s Booth Centre’s current situation and moving it to a residential area would only exacerbate the situation. The research and practice have demonstrated that housing first, and housing and support models do work. If someone is homeless, the first thing they need is a home. While they might also need addiction and mental health support, having them remain in an emergency shelter environment is counter to what we have seen in best practices. In fact, residents left in those environments do not get better, do not stabilize, and do not access the supports. This approach is not effective and is actually more costly. Innovative approaches need to be adopted. The Salvation Army’s model is outdated. Simply helping men in emergency shelter needs to change. Family response teams, housing and shelter for women, and specialized response for our Indigenous community members need to be brought forward.