Today Ottawa City Council approved the application of the Salvation Army to proceed with their proposal to both close their existing shelter in the Byward market and open a social hub in Vanier, including an emergency shelter as one of its uses.
I voted in support of this approval and here is why:
First, to those concerned about ongoing engagement I would say this is not the end of discussion, in fact, from this point forward the process shows every promise of having growing engagement and vibrancy. Both as a result of several council motions approved today and statements by the Salvation Army, growing collaboration promises to be ever present in the time to come.
Emergency shelters are one part of the housing continuum, but an important one.
Today the Federal government will release its long awaited National Housing Strategy. Much of what we believe will be in it will address the causes of homelessness, in some cases poverty, addictions, mental health challenges and the like. The social determinants of health are key factors in setting the trajectory of our lives. Taking action to positively influence these social determinants is our collective responsibility in a community as governments, social agencies and as individuals.
Notwithstanding our desire to gather around the tasks of ending homelessness by tackling the causes of homelessness we must always realize that as long as there are people, there will be people who are homeless. Some of these people will need access to an emergency shelter - and we must respond to that need by ensuring shelters exist. Beyond this we need to ensure shelters are purpose built, positive spaces where people move through the emergency stay program and into their own housing, supported by programming if needed as quickly as possible.
The proposed service hub has an emergency shelter component. It also has other programming and supportive spaces. Like a hospital, the goal of shelter staff regardless of which shelter they work at is to get people through the ‘emergency room’ as quickly as possible. We wouldn’t build a hospital without an emergency room and neither should we build a service hub with these programming elements without ensuring the presence of an emergency shelter component.
Sadly, while we currently struggle with an opioid crisis playing out on the streets of Ottawa and the continued pressure we have as a result of an unexpected influx of refugees, one day new Canadians, we must realize that there will always be the next crisis, the next pressure, the next need. Having adequate flexible spaces to respond to current and emerging needs is imperative. Not to allow a proponent who wishes to build such a facility to do so is naive and shortsighted.
My hope is that we are collectively so progressive and successful in our work to address and end homelessness that by the time this development is built we are in a place where much of the work done there will be redirected to other services.
I support a housing first model. I support moving people into homes, preferably by diverting them from homelessness in the first place. I also support using every tool we have at our disposal though. We cannot be too principled our too proud to say we are going to leave tools aside or leave willing partners by the wayside in our collective fight to end homelessness. We also need to ensure we have the tools to help all of our residents, not some, not most, but all. In order to do that we need a variety of models, tools and strategies.
Together with the steps Council has endorsed I believe we can ensure we provide for a safer, stronger, healthier community. This won’t be done as a result of today’s decision alone, it will be done in conjunction with other work on Montreal Road, in the Vanier community and across Ottawa. We can improve lives and outcomes for the future users of a Salvation Army facility, and for the area residents who shared their views on the problems that exist in Vanier today. We can do both, but only through collaboration.
We aren’t moving forward if we aren’t moving forward together.
I believe we can, and we will move forward together.