By the Leveller Staff

Ottawa City Council is expected to vote in favour of the construction of a controversial Salvation Army emergency shelter in Vanier on Nov. 22. The city’s planning committee voted six to three in favour on Nov. 17 after three days of intense public hearings.

The Salvation Army first submitted its proposal in June “to develop a new multi-purpose facility, including residential units, specialized medical care, stabilization and treatment services, life-skills training, day programs, and emergency shelter accommodations,” according to the City of Ottawa’s website.

The $53 million project would build a 9,600 square-metre 350-bed facility for homeless men located at 333 Montreal Road, the current location of the Concorde Motel. The Salvation Army’s existing Booth Centre shelter on George Street in the Byward Market would be closed down and sold.  

An economic benefits study was completed by Shore – Tanner & Associates on behalf of the Salvation Army and touts numerous benefits for the neighbourhood, including hundreds of jobs and new attractive retail space.

“The proposed Community Hub would replace an old, rundown and unattractive block with a modern, new, state-of-the-art, large, multi-use complex,” according to the study.

Despite the stated benefits, numerous residents – under the banner S.O.S. Vanier – have denounced and protested the Salvation Army’s proposal. Almost 3,900 people signed a petition.

Drew Dobson, the owner of Finnegan’s Pub on 349 Montreal Road who initiated S.O.S. Vanier, told the Ottawa Citizen that the shelter will push more affluent people out of the neighbourhood.

Although opposition certainly contains has NIMBYesque underpinnings – some of which were explicit during the public hearings – opponents have framed their arguments around shelters versus housing.

Opponents highlight the “housing first” model as being more effective and cheaper than focusing on emergency shelters. According to, “‘Housing First’ is a recovery-oriented approach to ending homelessness that centers on quickly moving people experiencing homelessness into independent and permanent housing and then providing additional supports and services as needed.”

Richard Bartlett, chief economist at the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa and Vanier resident, told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning that “I don’t think it’s a not-in-my-backyard [argument]. We already have more social services than any other neighbourhood in the city per square kilometre. The thing is, it [shouldn’t be] in anyone’s backyard. That’s really what the issue is, that this is a failed model. It’s the most expensive [model], and it’s a failed model, and we should be moving on from this.”

S.O.S. Vanier and other community groups that oppose the Salvation Army’s proposal do not think the shelter should be built anywhere, period. Instead, they argue that homelessness should be ended through a housing first strategy, which would eliminate the need for shelters.

However, the need for emergency shelters still exists – over 7,100 residents used shelters in 2016. Cities like Ottawa continue to fall behind in building and providing affordable housing, despite stated commitments to end homelessness.

Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy, even as thousands of Canadian citizens experience hunger, poverty and homelessness on a daily basis in one of the richest countries in the world – a wealth enabled by the ongoing theft of Indigenous lands and resources.

Feeling the heat from years of pressure, the federal Liberals are set to unveil a plan in late November, promising $30 billion in investment.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 3 (Nov/Dec 2017)