Community groups say sale of downtown YMCA-YWCA could mean losing valuable services

The YMCA-YWCA at 180 Argyle Avenue will be put up for sale, according to the charity. (Felix Desroches/CBC - image credit)
The YMCA-YWCA at 180 Argyle Avenue will be put up for sale, according to the charity. (Felix Desroches/CBC - image credit)

Advocates and social service providers say losing the YMCA-YWCA in downtown Ottawa would leave a hole in the heart of the community and mean saying goodbye to services that will be hard to replicate.

They're urging the charity consider the people who rely on it for support and include them in transition planning as the building is put up for sale. An incoming councillor is also calling for the site to remain a community hub.

"If they have to move out of the ... core, then we lose a really, really valuable downtown service, support and housing," said Michelle Hurtubise, executive director of Centretown Community Health Centre (CCHC).

The centre's staff work with the YMCA regularly, particularly around clients living in the charity's housing units.

Hurtubise described the location at 180 Argyle Avenue as a "classic example" of the right service in the right place to connect users with wraparound supports, from deeply-subsidized recreation programs to employment help.

"It's such a great spot," she explained. "The concern that ... some of our staff has, is that in shutting down and moving, it will be hard to replicate all of that connection to community resources and support."

The YMCA has been a great partner, the director was quick to add, but said she can't help but wonder, "what are we going to lose in that move?"

Building at the end of its life cycle, says CEO

While many people think of the YMCA as a place to swim, shoot hoops or work out, the location on Argyle Avenue provides much more. Its Shenkman Residence offers transitional housing and monthly supportive housing at a more-affordable rate.

The charity said the sale is part of plans to find or build a facility better-suited to the programs and services it provides.

Built in 1969, the brown-brick building towering over a section of Centretown would require $38 million in upgrades, according to Bob Gallagher, president and CEO of the YMCA-YWCA of the National Capital Region.

Felix Desroches/CBC
Felix Desroches/CBC

He said the building has come to the end of its lifecycle and become a less comfortable place to live as the heat doesn't always work.

Gallagher recognized the YMCA-YWCA's central location with access to services and transit and said those considerations will be factors in choosing the next spot.

"It's about the best location, not the same, but the best to serve the future," he said.

The sale process is expected to take two years and the charity said staff will continue provide services in the meantime with the minimum amount of disruption.

Hopes for a community hub

Alexandra Zannis, a social worker and director with the Basic Income Canada Youth Network (BICYN) stressed the importance of continuity of care.

"Moving physical locations, even for the best of reasons can cause a great amount of anxiety and confusion," she explained.

Zannis suggested any information about a move should be provided in multiple languages and take things like mobility access into consideration and the CCHC director agreed.

"If there isn't good conversation with community partners, the impact on the people who are being supported, is so significant. It's easy for them to fall through the cracks," Hurtubise said.

Felix Desroches/CBC
Felix Desroches/CBC

Somerset ward councillor-elect Ariel Troster is among those monitoring the sale.

She called the YMCA-YWCA a "crucial resource" and "key part of the neighbourhood," pointing to its housing and non-profit daycar and would like to see it turned into a community hub.

Troster said the neighbourhood can't lose the housing offered in the building and if the YMCA's not running it, local groups and the city should put their heads together to come up with a strategy to make sure it stays.

"I think making sure that that parcel of land stays and community hands and provides community services will be really, really key going forward."