The Shepherds of Good Hope is reassuring neighbours of their downtown Ottawa shelter that a future expansion of the facility will not make the area more dangerous, but will give homeless people more secure housing and a place to be during the day.
A new multipurpose building is being planned for its property at 216 Murray St., that would incorporate a drop-in centre, a recreation area, a dining hall and a new soup kitchen. The building will also include 48 micro-suites to provide permanent housing.
"I think one of the misconceptions is that we're going to be adding to concentration in the Lowertown area and that's not at all the case," said Caroline Cox, senior manager of communications, community and volunteer services at the Shepherds of Good Hope.
"As we move people into housing, we'll be reducing our shelter occupancy by the same number of people so that we're never going to get back to the hundreds of people in our shelter ever again."
The shelter received approximately $10.8 million from the federal government's Rapid Housing Initiative. The plan is to break ground in 2021 and open in early 2022.
Neighbours fighting the plan
Neighbours do not share Cox's enthusiasm for the plan.
They have been writing letters to government leaders to try and have it stopped, arguing the neighbourhood is too dangerous citing numerous break-ins of homes and vehicles. They believe that more vulnerable people should not be brought in to the neighbourhood.
"At night, nobody goes out. It's dangerous. There's been stabbing, we [found] a knife ... it's getting out of control," said Julie Lanteigne, one of the neighbours fighting the plan. She said also sees needles on the street regularly.
Lanteigne said she is not blaming all homeless people, but knows her neighbours are scared of some of the people seen at the shelter.
"I talked to my neighbour, they have young kids. They don't want their kids on the street," she said
Housing with adequate supports
In order to be selected for a unit, a person will have to be considered chronically homeless meaning that they are either long-term shelter clients or living on the streets.
Cox said the funding is based on prioritizing women and Indigenous people for the spots.
"We know the solution to homelessness is housing with adequate supports, and that's what we're aiming to do with this program."
Cox said the shelter is trying to disperse services across the city, pointing to the new shelter recently built — a 42-unit supportive housing project on Montreal Road — and an additional 100 units in Kanata and 50 on Merivale Road.
The expansion plan would require a zoning variance which will have to be approved by council.