Ottawa’s poorest neighbourhood struggles with growth in light of proposed homeless shelter


Drew Dobson, owner of Finnigan’s Pub in the heart of Vanier, said the new proposed shelter will hurt an already “vulnerable” community.

On June 22, Drew Dobson was struck by the news that the City of Ottawa is proposing a 350-bed Salvation Army homeless shelter to be built in Vanier. That night, much of the neighbourhood gathered at his bar on Montreal Road to express their grievances.

“[This shelter] will hinder and stall the progress we made, and set it back 10 years,” Dobson, owner of Finnigan’s Pub for the last 16 and a half years, said.

Vanier is tucked away in Ottawa’s core, adjacent to the affluent area of Rockliffe Park, where the Prime Minister lives. But Vanier is no 24 Sussex Drive.

One of Ottawa’s oldest neighbourhoods, Vanier boasts the lowest median income in the city, with an average of $38,000 in 2015, according to analyzed data compiled by Statistics Canada. Data also shows that most areas of Vanier has seen a decrease in median income since 2005.

The proposed homeless shelter will hurt an already “vulnerable” neighbourhood, Dobson said. He started an online petition upon hearing of the proposal, and was soon relaying the neighbourhood’s concerns on local and national news outlets.

“I’m opposed to it because of how it is going to affect the residents, and my customers and my friends and my family,” Dobson said. He added he is mainly concerned about how the community will adapt to the introduction of this new shelter.

“I don’t think it can adapt, I think it will enter a downward spiral,” Dobson said. ” … Vanier is one of the poorest areas in Ottawa right now … It’s a have-not area, it needs help, it needs a step-up, not a step-down.”

Dobson said he believes the shelter will cause affluent residents and businesses in the neighbourhood to leave, ultimately “ghettoizing” Vanier.

His grievances are shared by Nathalie Carrier, the executive director of Quartier Vanier BIA, which oversees many of the businesses in the area. Carreir said Vanier has already been struggling due to other decisions made by the city earlier in the year.

“The crime rate in Vanier has risen since June and the direct correlation with that was the, quote-unquote ‘cleaning up’ of the downtown core for Canada Day, and so lots of crime and crime-driven people … were redirected towards Vanier,” Carrier said.

She added there were “some influential companies” that were looking at opening spaces in or around Montreal Road, who have since backed out or halted their progress since the news of the proposed homeless shelter broke.

As a result of the shelter, and other planning decisions like the high concentration of social services in the neighbourhood, Dobson said Vanier is being treated like “a dumping ground” by the City of Ottawa.

“If you want to put it somewhere, put it in Vanier, no one will notice,” he said. “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Montreal Road, the area’s main pass and home to Dobson’s pub, has become “social service ghetto,” he said, attracting the poorer populations of Ottawa to Vanier.

But Carrier is quick to say that Vanier is not the crime-ridden, hopeless neighbourhood people around the city make it out to be, and the proposed shelter has put light on a solidarity that exists between residents, and showing “a community that desperately cares about its neighbourhood and the area in which they live.”

The proposed shelter passed in council on Nov. 22. This decision is now being appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board. Mattieu Fleury, city-councillor for Rideau-Vanier, wrote on his website that “the fight is far from over.”

“Vanier has worked hard to remove the stigma of criminality that’s haunted it since the 1990’s. The community of Vanier is improving, but it is far from being on solid ground,” Fleury wrote.

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