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City opens overflow beds in Britannia as downtown shelters fill up

The City of Ottawa has opened a new overnight shelter at Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre in Britannia, about 12 kilometres from downtown. (Celeste Decaire/CBC - image credit)
The City of Ottawa has opened a new overnight shelter at Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre in Britannia, about 12 kilometres from downtown. (Celeste Decaire/CBC - image credit)
  • UPDATE | Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Friday "it looks like" another emergency shelter is opening at 250 Lanark Ave.

  • The former federal building is near Westboro station and closer to downtown.

  • Kavanagh said it's "not likely" Ron Kolbus will remain a shelter.

  • CBC has reached out to the city for more information.

The City of Ottawa has opened a new emergency overflow shelter in the west end neighbourhood of Britannia, but some housing advocates say it's difficult to access and has hardly been used.

The shelter at Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre opened Jan. 10, offering 25 beds and basic supplies to unhoused people who have been turned away from the city's other shelters because they're full.

The overnight shelter on Greenview Avenue is open from 9 p.m. to 7a.m. and is only available to clients who have been referred by the city's existing "physical distancing centres" or shelters, which are available day and night.

It's also about 12 kilometres from downtown Ottawa, and that has raised questions about the practicality of its location.

"That's an isolated area in the west end. I guess it's an option, [but] it sounds like it's not the best option if it's only a referral basis," said Peter Tilley, CEO of The Ottawa Mission on Waller Street.

Ottawa Mission CEO Peter Tilley.
Ottawa Mission CEO Peter Tilley.

Ottawa Mission CEO Peter Tilley says the Waller Street shelter is currently over capacity, but questions the location of the city's new overflow facility. (Arthur White-Crummey/CBC)

Centre used just 2 nights so far

On Thursday, the city told CBC the overflow centre had only been used two nights — Tuesday and Wednesday — by a total of four individuals since opening its doors last week.

Reaching the centre from downtown takes about 50 minutes on OC Transpo. The city said it can offer clients who are referred there bus tickets or taxi vouchers, and the Salvation Army also provides transportation to people in need.

We will find a way that people are going to come in from the cold. - Peter Tilley, The Ottawa Mission

The city's three existing physical distancing centres — Dempsey Community Centre, Bernard Grandmaître Arena and Heron Road Community Centre — are currently at capacity.

Alta Vista Coun. Marty Carr, whose ward includes two of those locations, suggested Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre might see more clients if it wasn't so far away.

"Certainly some people would prefer to stay in the downtown core, I would imagine, than being triaged to another facility simply for overnight," she said.

A homeless person sleeps on Bank Street in Ottawa, Ont on, April 28, 2021.
A homeless person sleeps on Bank Street in Ottawa, Ont on, April 28, 2021.

A pedestrian passes a person sleeping in a doorway on Bank Street in Ottawa in April 2021. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Centre lacks full amenities

The west end facility has no showers, so it's not ideal, said Theresa Kavangh, the city councillor for Bay ward where Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre is located.

"This is not as convenient for other reasons, but if all those cots, all those bunk beds [at other shelters] are filled then we still have something to offer. It's getting to that point," she said.

The city said it will continue to gauge demand of the extra shelter space. Kavanagh said if the 25 beds begin filling up, the city will seek out more locations.

"It means that we're even beyond our own expectations," Kavanagh said. "It will mean looking at other places that are owned by the city."

Coun. Kavanagh said the Bay Ward community has been largely receptive to the new respite centre at Ron Kolbus, and she is impressed by the support.
Coun. Kavanagh said the Bay Ward community has been largely receptive to the new respite centre at Ron Kolbus, and she is impressed by the support.

Coun. Theresa Kavanagh said the city will continue to gauge demand for the new overflow shelter, and could even begin seeking more spaces. (Celeste Decaire/CBC )

Tilley said the Ottawa's downtown shelters are already at the breaking point, especially as the weather turns colder.

"Upwards of 35, 40 people a night [are] sleeping in our waiting area in plastic chairs or on the floor, waiting for a bed to open up, waiting for a mat to open up so that they can lie down," he said.

The city estimates about 250 people are currently sleeping rough in Ottawa.

"We will find a way that people are going to come in from the cold, and we're going to feed them as well,"  Tilley said.