By Natalia Goodwin. Photo by Omar Dabaghi-Pachecho
An advocate for Ottawa's homeless is concerned the imminent closure of a respite facility at the McNabb Recreation Centre will leave its clients without basic human needs like showers and clean toilets.
The Percy Street respite centre was opened in April when other support services for Ottawa's homeless population were forced to close. It was a placefor people to rest, use the washroom and take a shower. Some meals and other social services were also available there.
Now that those regular support services have reopened, the temporary respite centre is set to close Friday.
"It will be a big blow to the community," said Kristina Ropke with the GottaGo! campaign, which has been advocating for a network of clean toilets and water fountains for all residents of Ottawa to use.
According to a report Ropke prepared in August, the McNabb respite centre was serving about 15 people a day when it first opened early in the pandemic, and now serves nearly three times that number.
Ropke said for the city's downtown homeless population, the centre was a reliable alternative to less desirable washroom options.
"I think we're relying too much on coffee shops, and the pandemic has really proven that," she said. "I've talked with people and they feel like it's a place for them where they can go and ... have a shower every day to wash up, to not worry about looking for a toilet to make that awful decision of defecating in someone's backyard, in someone's laneway, because that's happening."
Coun. Catherine McKenney, who represents the area and applauded the centre when it opened, is now demanding a plan for the fall and winter, which could see further service reductions and shutdowns due to the pandemic.
"It's difficult ... we only have so much space," McKenney said. "If it means keeping people alive through the winter, and that means providing those basic human needs, then we're going to have to make those decisions on how we allocate our space."
In a statement, the city said staff are working on a plan to address those needs.
"To address projected service gaps, the City is providing additional funding to four different day programs/community health and resource centres," said Clara Freire, head of the city's human needs task force.
"[That] will allow community service providers to not only resume services safely, but also expand much needed services including showers and washroom facilities, to the most vulnerable residents in the city."