Two Ottawa community centers still in use as shelters

The City has exceeded the deadline for closing the temporary shelters set up in two leisure centers which now welcome migrants. The Municipality does not give any new date for the reopening of these infrastructures for sports.

These facilities house Ottawa’s last physical distancing centers set up during the pandemic to relieve the overstretched emergency shelter system. But councilors say it is unfair that the burden of the housing crisis falls on disadvantaged children.

Eleven of these centers were opened during the pandemic. Today, there are only two left: at the community center Dempsey, in the Alta Vista district, and at the Bernard Grandmaître arena, in the Rideau-Vanier district.

In February, the city administration said in a memo that both would remain open until mid-August. In June, a transition plan was put in place to close these two centers as soon as possible.

But there is no indication today when that will happen, as the centers continue to house around 130 people each night, more than half of whom are newcomers to Canada.

A woman interviewed by Radio-Canada.

Alta Vista Ward Councilwoman Marty Carr (File photo)

Photo: Radio-Canada

We can’t followreacted the city councilor of Alta Vista, Marty Carr. We take one step forward, then we take two steps back. There are simply too many factors that currently clog the system.

A choice deemed unfair

The city’s head of homelessness programs and shelters has not given a new timeline for the closures of these centers, when CBC asked him the question. Ms. Carr hasn’t heard of it either.

This expectation is difficult for the community, Carr said. The community center Dempsey has a gymnasium for basketball leagues, gym classes and social programs for seniors including vulnerable people from two nearby Ottawa Community Housing buildings.

I would love to have my community center back, but I also don’t want people to have no roof over their headsMs. Carr explained.

Christie Lake Kidswhich runs year-round camp programs for underprivileged children, used to run 20 free youth programs at the center Dempseyrecalled Ms. Carr.

They haven’t been able to do it for three yearsshe regretted.

The organization’s executive director, Adrienne Vienneau, told CBC that she was eager to resume her activities.

To the north, the Rideau-Vanier neighborhood already contains three large shelters for single adults and has hosted four physical distancing centers during the pandemic.

According to the Ottawa Neighborhood Equity Index, the neighborhood in the immediate vicinity of the Bernard Grandmaître Arena ranks third among the most inequitable neighborhoods in the city.

Rideau Vanier City Councilor Stephanie Plante says the decision to keep a makeshift shelter at a downtown recreation center, rather than finding underutilized land in the suburbs, sends a clear message to her residents.

We are saying that the children of the richest sectors do not have to face these social evils which affect all the cities of Canada, because we are only going to ask the poorest to take care of themshe launched. I don’t think that’s fair at all.

Rideau-Vanier City Councilor Stéphanie Plante.

Rideau-Vanier city councilor Stephanie Plante says the term “physical distancing center” is an understatement. “This is a refuge,” she says.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Jean Delisle

Ms. Plante has visited the Bernard Grandmaître Arena since it opened as a physical distancing center. According to her, it is essentially a dormitory, with cots set up instead of the ice rink. For her, the term physical distancing center is an understatement.

I don’t use that term. It’s a haven!

Since the City did not respect the August deadline, it thinks that the upcoming hockey season is in jeopardy at the Bernard Grandmaître Arena. For her, all this uncertainty only makes things worse.

We cannot reopen the rink overnight. There is a whole process to follow.

The unavailability of this community infrastructure is all the more painful because Vanier has few other recreational options, especially indoors, noted Chris GreenshieldsActing President of the Vanier Community Association.

Facilities are very limitedhe recalled. It’s frustrating and suggests very poor planning on the part of the City. We know there is a crisis, but she has not prepared for it.

According to Mr. Greenshields, communication from the City was also insufficient. It was only this weekend, through the mouth of Mrs. Plante, that he learned that the Municipality was not going to respect the schedule initially planned.

There was simply no information and the City does not seem to care.he regretted. They don’t keep the community informed.

The number of new arrivals has doubled

At a Community Services Committee meeting in June, staff announced a transition plan to move residents out of remaining physical distancing centers and avoid opening a new one. In particular, it was a question of renting a facility from the private sector to absorb the winter influx into the shelters.

But new figures show the scale of the challenges facing the city administration.

On Wednesday, the Bernard Grandmaître arena was full, with 76 men accommodated. The community center Dempsey was nearly full, providing temporary shelter for 57 women. That’s more than in June, when combined usage was 114 people.

The number of single newcomers accommodated in these temporary centers has doubled in six months. It has fallen from an average of 36 people per night in January to 73 people per night in July as part of a wider crisis in the accommodation of asylum seekers which affects the whole system. .

City staff have managed to find accommodation for 375 people since the opening of physical distancing centers. But for each of them, it is others who present themselves with a need for accommodation. Few options are available, with emergency shelters such as the Ottawa Mission operating beyond capacity.

It’s a real challenge. I believe we are the only municipality in Ontario to use community centers to house peoplesaid Ms. Carr. It is heartbreaking to see that we have such a hard time placing people who need housing.

Reserve an entire block of hotels in Kanata

City staff explored different options to find an alternate facility that could accommodate these people, with limited success.

Although we are determined to shut down the two current sites as soon as possible, they both fill critical gaps within the hosting system, acting as a solution to deal with (system) overflow.wrote Kale Brownthe City’s Director of Homeless Programs and Shelters, via email.

He added that staff had already considered more than 160 office space offers and 53 industrial spaces. School boards, housing development corporations and other levels of government have also been contacted and have been looking at City properties to find a solution.

Ms. Plante is not convinced that the Municipality is really out of options.

We have tools that allow us to book an entire block of hotels in Kanatashe insisted. We have to start looking outside the city center.

Vanier Community Association Acting President Chris Greenshields.

Vanier Community Association acting president Chris Greenshields says the city hasn’t provided enough information.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Jean Delisle

Mr. Greenshields also sees it as partly a matter of geographic justice.

I think there are a lot of other facilities and they’re going to have to make choices. Will they continue to place the burden of shelters on a more vulnerable, low-income community, or will they spread that kind of burden across the city? he asked.

The City lobbied for help. Mr. Brown indicated that its staff were in discussions with the province and the federal government to explain Ottawa’s growing needs and ask for additional help.

According to Ms. Carr, Ottawa needs their help.

All three levels of government need to work together. I recognize that there is work to be done at the local level to be done, but we cannot do it without funding from provincial and federal partners.

With information from Arthur White-Crummey of CBC News

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