Is Sandy Hill going down hill?

Larry Newman

Good question. I got to thinking about this a few months ago when a resident who had lived in Sandy Hill over 10 years ago recently returned. He was unpleasantly surprised to see a deterioration in housing stock and observe more litter and untidiness than he expected. After he said that, I realized the same trend.

Seeing litter and untidiness is exasperating and there are probably many causes. One of them was in front of my eyes in late August when I strolled down the block on Daly Avenue that includes the Ottawa Mission. I saw at least 40 people hanging out—sitting on the curb, standing and talking in small groups. The garbage bins on the side of one of the buildings looked like they had been looted. Garbage and trash were scattered about. I asked one man if he knew anything about these people and he said that some stay at the Mission, some at the Shepherds of Good Hope and some at the Salvation Army.

I spoke to Hilary Burke who has lived very near the Mission for 20 years. She said, “One weekend, there must have been at least  100 people congregating on this one block! Apparently, some were urinating on the side of the building.” This experience is a first for her.

There is another disturbing trend—the number of reports of people seen injecting drugs in the neighbourhood. When I drive to Loblaws, I usually park in one of the spaces behind the Rideau Library. I often see people there, especially in rainy weather. Recently, I saw a young couple, huddling in a corner, about to “shoot up.” A security guard was watching them, not knowing what to do. This was about nine p.m., too late for the young couple to avail themselves of the services of the Supervised Injection Site (SIS) across the street.

As most of Sandy Hill residents know, the SIS is part of the services of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre (SHCHC), located on the corner of Nelson and Rideau Streets. In April, 2018, the SHCHC began operation of a SIS to provide a safe place to inject drugs. Medical care is standing by in case of overdoses.

I spoke to Rob Boyd, the manager of the SIS. I asked him point-blank, “Do you think that locating the SIS at the SHCHC has attracted drug users to Sandy Hill—which, of course, would lead to the increase in theft which Sandy Hill is experiencing?” I expected a nuanced explanation but Rob said that yes, it had. He said there were also other factors leading to the increase in drug users locally:

The McDonald’s, located on Rideau Street near The Bay, recently reduced its operating hours to eliminate late night/early morning rowdiness by loiterers.

The Beer Store on Rideau Street just west of Cumberland closed this year. Many people used to hang out there. Now some of them have found a new place to gather—near Loblaws in Sandy Hill as Loblaws now sells single bottles/cans of beer.

The Salvation Army’s site on George Street stopped serving lunch, so many of their clients found their way to the Mission, which still serves lunch.

And of course most of us have enjoyed the pleasant weather this summer. It tends to bring everyone out, street people being no exception.

Before the marketing of Oxycontin was suspended, it was the pharmaceutical drug of choice for injection. However, now that it’s practically no longer available, Fentanyl is being sold as its replacement. The effect of using Oxycontin lasts three to four hours but the Fentanyl effect lasts only about an hour. This causes crowds to form near the SIS, awaiting their turn in the SIS or waiting to score more Fentanyl.

The current drug supply is more likely to cause an overdose, so more people want to use the supervised injection site and they need to use it more frequently, creating significant capacity issues at the Centre and at SIS’s across the country.

As more drug users gather in Sandy Hill, there are more interactions with residents, some of them scary. This has roused residents of Besserer Street near the SIS to take their complaints to our councillor. Mathieu Fleury held a meeting on September 11 to let people air these grievances but, particularly to find solutions to these problems. There were 60+ people present plus Mathieu and representatives of the Ottawa Police, the SIS, and Ottawa Public Health. A consolidated list of problems and solutions will be created by the councillor’s office. Copies have been released to meeting attendees and is posted at the ASH website.

The Ottawa Police has crime statistics on theft in Sandy Hill for 2017 and 2018. These statistics reveal that, as residents attest, both violent and non-violent crime has gone up substantially in 2018.

This article is meant to identify some of the recent social problems experienced in Sandy Hill. I believe that drug addiction is one element of interlocking problems including homelessness, joblessness, mental health disorders, and crime. The next issue of IMAGE will explore some of the solutions identified in the September 11 meeting.