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Sandy Hill, as well as the adjacent neighbourhoods that comprise Rideau-Vanier Ward 12 (Lowertown and Vanier), has long contended with an overconcentration of emergency homeless shelters and respective social services supports, particularly drop-in centres, known as community health and resource centres, and residential care facilities. There are more social services in Rideau-Vanier than there are in all the other wards in the City of Ottawa combined. Currently, there are an estimated 12-14 shelters in our Ward. (The actual number is difficult to ascertain, not least due to competing interpretations of what constitutes a “shelter.” For example, although the City of Ottawa leases hotel rooms for unhoused families, it counts these as “hotels” and not shelters.)
In 2008, the City instituted a Ward-12 shelter density cap of 4 shelters via a zoning bylaw and undertook a pledge not to finance more shelters or additional shelter beds in Ward 12. At that time, the City also vowed to end homelessness in ten years by investing in permanent housing, including transitional and supportive housing programs.
The City has not kept its promise.
The number of shelters has more than tripled in our community. The City has not made substantial progress on addressing homelessness.
Shelters and social services have continued to increase and expand both in Sandy Hill and our ward. In 2018, Ottawa opened a supervised consumption site at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre. There are currently four supervised consumption sites in Ottawa; 3 of which are blocks away from each other in our ward.
The problem is that amenities and safeguards have not kept pace with the development and intensification of services for those suffering from mental health, addiction, or homelessness. The high concentration of shelters and services in a relatively small geographical area, coupled with the lack of commensurate safeguards and adequate resources in the community, mean that parts of Sandy Hill face unique challenges.
ASH has repeatedly heard from concerned Sandy Hill residents and businesses, particularly from those situated near shelters and social services, about issues such as social disorder, encampments, trespassing onto private property, criminal activity, public toileting, garbage, and discarded drug paraphernalia. Many residents have told us that they feel frustrated and unsafe, particularly when they are obstructed from using the public-right-way or from leaving their place of residence or when they are forced to confront someone who has trespassed or has caused damage to their property. Some long-term residents have chosen to relocate to other communities in the City while others contemplate a move. Several businesses have also relocated because of the impacts associated with these services, and landlords have told us that they are losing business or are struggling to find tenants. Police data validate that the top community concerns are public and social disorder, presence of drugs and dealers, vandalism, and theft.
The City of Ottawa has thus far failed to acknowledge or take responsibility for these externalities. Instead, residents, business owners as well as shelter and social service providers have been forced to take independent action (e.g., investing in surveillance or other Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) equipment; organizing street clean-ups; adopting garbage cans; etc.) to address some of these on their own.
ASH believes that Sandy Hill has exceeded its capacity to cope with the externalities that arise from an overconcentration of social services in a relatively small geographical area.
We are calling on Ottawa to do 4 things:
- uphold its initial promise of a cap by decreasing the number of shelters and social services in the Ward;
- freeze the number of shelters and social services in Sandy Hill;
- provide immediate remediate measures to improve livability in Sandy Hill through community consultation with all stakeholders;
- and encourage and allow a more equitable distribution of shelters, group homes, community health and resource centres, including supervised consumption sites throughout the City of Ottawa.
See our statement: Overconcentration of Shelters and Services in Sandy Hill – ASH’s statement
In 2008, the City of Ottawa acknowledged that Sandy Hill suffered from an excessive concentration of shelters, users, and services in a relatively small geographical area and pledged to limit the future expansion and proliferation of these in Ward 12. In May 2008, the City of Ottawa released a report that developed new definitions and land use regulations applicable to special needs houses, including shelters, group homes, residential care facilities, as well as community health and resource centres. It also set out the following regulations and bylaws:
- limit the number of shelters in Ward 12 to four,
- prohibit shelters along those streets in Ward 12, as well as all streets city-wide, that are designated Mainstreet in the Official Plan,
- prohibit residential care facilities and community health and resource centres in the Residentially-zoned (R5) area adjacent to Murray and St. Patrick Streets and King Edward Avenue; and create site-specific exceptions to permit the existing centres in the R5-exception area, recognizing their current legal status as permitted land uses,
- prohibit residential care facilities, shelters and community health and resource centres in all Residential Zones throughout the city,
- prohibit residential care facilities and shelters in all Local Commercial Zones throughout the city,
- increase the general pool of lands available city-wide to permit shelters, residential care facilities and community health and resource centres by permitting these uses in Commercial (non-Mainstreet and non-Local Commercial), Mixed Use and Institutional Zones, subject to regulations. In many instances, these uses will be newly permitted in former municipalities within the city, and
- increase the minimum separation area required between shelters to 500 metres.
The goal was not to shut down or relocate existing use shelters and services but rather to ensure reasonable geographical distribution throughout Ottawa. A reasonable geographical distribution is essential not only to helping restore the balance in our community but also ensures equal opportunity and accessibility in the provision of services. It also ensures that individuals receive the care they need in their community of origin and not be displaced or have to endure unreasonable hardship in order acquire services that are not made available throughout the City.
The City continually reneges on its commitment to our community.
- The City failed to uphold its commitment to limit shelters. The number of shelters in our Ward have grown from 4 to over twelve. Apart from the flagrant disregard for bylaw, another significant implication of this parochial definition is that the City fails to have a complete understanding of the population and therefore does not properly invest in community supports, such as recreation centres and green spaces.
- The City violated its own Official Plan that prohibits shelters on Main Streets. In 2017, City Council approved an amendment to Zoning Bylaw that will permit the Salvation Army to move from its existing location on George Street to Montreal Road – a designated “Main Street.”
- The City has not increased the general pool of lands available city-wide for shelters and social services. Those who suffer from poverty, food insecurity, mental health, trauma, or substance abuse or addiction, as well as those who are unhoused deserve to receive services and supports throughout the entire city of Ottawa. Essential services should be made available in every Ward.