Homeless centre a magnet for crime, neighbours warn

SEE VIDEO http://www.ottawasun.com/news/ottawa/2011/03/09/17557041.html#/news/ottawa/2011/03/09/pf-17555811.html

Wednesdays were hell.

From witnessing a stabbing to crack addicts smoking up on their front steps, residents living near Cumberland St. and Daly Ave. saw it all when a homeless drop-in centre used to operate at St. Paul’s-Eastern United church.

“It was on Wednesdays, once a week, for five or six years,” said Paula Dunn, who’s lived in the neighbourhood for almost 10 years.

The centre was shut down by the church a few years ago after residents and businesses videotaped clients buying and selling drugs, having sex and stealing, among other things, and screened it for senior members of the congregation.

Some of those residents are speaking out against a different homeless drop-in program, Centre 454, relocating to St. Alban’s Church barely a block away.

Residents fear history will repeat itself.

“It’s not the homelessness, it’s not the hunger. It’s the behaviour,” said Dunn.

“The issue is increasing the drug traffic and trade.” It was so rampant, she said, she once surprised a guy shooting heroin outside her front door.

“He got mad at us for interrupting and said ‘good timing,’” she said.

It isn’t just drug users she’s concerned about.

“The dealers are violent,” she said.

An Ottawa Police crime trends report for Rideau-Vanier in 2008-2009 lists “presence of drugs/drug dealers” as the top ward concern.

“(Residents) certainly are exposed to street-level drug use,” said Staff Sgt. Murray Knowles.

“That’s something we would be attuned to.”

A pilot project in 2008 has led to a permanent street crime unit dealing with drug-related issues.

“We go where our crime analysis tells us there’s problems,” Knowles said.

Dunn runs the Gold Door Inn out of her home.

Her clients range from students to doctors.

“They’re turned off by the neighbourhood,” she said.

“One of my guests saw two people having sex on the steps of the church.”

The concentration of support services in the downtown core has raised concerns about its effect on tourism.

“We have a relatively good reputation as a clean and desirable city,” said Ottawa Tourism president and CEO Noel Buckley. “Obviously, it would be more pleasant if there were no homeless, no crime, no panhandling. But it’s not realistic in any major North American city.”

The concerns of residents are being heard.

“We’ve been very responsive to issues that have been brought up over the years,” Centre 454 executive director Mary-Martha Hale recently told the Sun.

“We would welcome people to come and talk to us and get to know us, and there’s lots of time for that to happen. And I really look forward to being a part of the neighbourhood.”

kelly.roche@sunmedia.ca

About Centre 454:

  • 250 people served daily in 2010
  • Users: men, women, children, seniors
  • Open 5 days/week (April to October) & 7 days/week (November to March)
  • Current hours: 8 a.m.-11:30 a.m. & 12:30-3:30 p.m.
  • No lunch is served
  • Services: tea, coffee, juice, snacks, showers, literacy, counseling, laundry, telephone, karaoke, mail
  • One of eight day programs offered in Ottawa

— Source: Centre 454
2008-2009 CRIME TRENDS REPORT – RIDEAU-VANIER

Total Drug Offences:

  • 2009: 514
  • 2008: 698
TYPE 2009 2008
Cannabis: 234 246
Ecstasy: 5 1
Crystal Meth: 0 0
Heroin: 1 2
Cocaine: 229 373
Other: 45 76

Top 5 ward concerns:

RIDEAU-VANIER WARD AVG.
Presence of drugs/drug dealers 70% 31%
Speeding cars/aggressive driving 63% 60%
Theft from vehicles 62% 49%
Vandalism to property 60% 50%
Panhandling 60% 14%

— Source: Ottawa Police

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