As a society, we rely on effective social services agencies that are publicly financed to support our most vulnerable residents. Only if in need of these services can one truly understand how necessary and life-changing social supports can be. One thing is certain; when a member of our community is in need, we have a collective duty to ensure they are appropriately supported.
But research has shown that clustering services in one location can have lasting negative impacts on the community and on the individuals who are accessing the services. We have a responsibility to re-envision the social services structure based on evidence and best practices to better serve our residents.
The reality is that there is no perfect community for an archaic emergency mega-shelter. When I hear that Vanier is the ideal location for a shelter of this magnitude, I wonder why anyone would hold that belief.
The Salvation Army started off on the wrong foot with its shelter proposal. After repeated requests to reconsider and acknowledge the need for meaningful engagement with the community, it continued to pursue its plan in a cold, corporate manner, alienating the community through its insincerity and close-mindedness.
Throughout the summer months, we have highlighted to the Salvation Army its responsibility to engage meaningfully with the community, to reconsider its approach and proposed site. We have requested multiple consultations to ensure that residents’ voices are properly heard and considered. The answer from the Salvation Army was an open-house consultation held Sept. 13.
As if this were a simple planning project without broader social impacts, the Salvation Army hosted one public session earlier this week to take questions and explain their mega-project. It remains unclear how thoroughly Salvation Army officials have engaged their clients and staff members.
We have repeatedly emphasized that the level of interest and opposition from our community and many other Ottawa residents deserves more than one day of consultation to meaningfully engage and gather a complete range of feedback.
Unfortunately, the staff at the Salvation Army’s Open House were more interested in sharing their work than in taking notes and considering new approaches.
Based on the continued concerns and questions from the community, we will ensure that the summary of comments received by city staff is shared with the broader public. We ask that the Salvation Army respond in writing to the wide range of comments and bring major changes to the proposal.
A more effective consultation could have been a video describing the project with a variety of expert opinions. This video could have been posted online later on for all who are interested in learning more. Following the showing of the video, there could have been a public question and answer session. The consultation should have been recorded and shared with those who could not attend. A few evening sessions, using this approach, would have allowed for meaningful engagement.
The Salvation Army’s $50 million project is a worthwhile investment in Ottawa. If it is done right, it will allow for a shift in housing supports and stabilization for our most vulnerable community members. The Salvation Army has been given an opportunity to listen, adapt and rethink. Hopefully, this big corporate social service will change its tone and bring innovation to Ottawa.