Is Sandy Hill going down hill?

Part two – solutions discussed

Larry Newman

In Part One of this topic, published in the last issue, I reported on trends that have recently grown to become problems in Sandy Hill. We can now walk down the street and see people injecting drugs. Some are aggressive in speech or manner. We see more people just loitering, mainly on Rideau and the western end of Daly. This has been an occasional experience for the last few years (at least 10) but not to the extent that one must walk slalom fashion down Daly between groups of people, just hanging out. Most, I suspect, are homeless. There seem to be more reports of hypodermic needles found in parks and other public places. This is becoming scary.

What has caused this increase in drug use and associated behavior in Sandy Hill? I believe that drug addiction is one element of interlocking issues including homelessness, joblessness, and mental health disorders. Mathieu Fleury moderated a meeting on September 11 to let people air their complaints and more importantly to listen to their solutions.

There were several solutions proposed:

More security (especially from Ottawa Police) is needed, particularly in the area around the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre (SHCHC). The Ottawa Police (OPS) were present at the meeting on September 11 and spoke about the efforts that they have made to deal with loitering and drug use. They made the point that they are taking this situation seriously. Since the meeting there are indications that they are delivering. OPS Bikes and Beats have been seen several times dealing with loitering problems on Daly and in the neighbourhood around Augusta and Besserer. Also, the SHCHC has hired people to secure the area around the centre. With more security presence, I suspect that aggressive behavior will abate although it has been reported that people who inject and meet to make deals don’t go far, just a short distance into the surrounding neighbourhood.

More supervised injection sites (SIS) throughout the city.

Location of supervised injection sites in Ottawa, November 2019
Source: Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres

There are 11 community health centres in the central part of the city. One is in Sandy Hill and it’s one of only four city locations with a Supervised Injection Site. Other sites are at the Somerset West CHC, Shepherds of Good Hope, and an Ottawa Public Health site on Clarence St. at the ByWard Market. The suggestion was made and agreed upon that these sites should be distributed more widely throughout the city. The Province has apparently decided to concentrate rather than distribute the SISs. They will discontinue the funding for the ByWard Market site and add more booths to the Ottawa Inner City SIS at the Shepherds of Good Hope.

Legalize all drugs. This is a somewhat radical move but not generally unpopular. There may be an impetus in that direction. The federal Standing Committee on Health recently recommended that the government “work with provinces, territories, municipalities and Indigenous communities and law enforcement agencies to decriminalize the simple possession of small quantities of illicit substances.”

This past July, Health Canada called for proposals to increase access to pharmaceutical-grade medications. The NDP and the Green Party both favour decriminalization of all drugs. It remains to be seen how these measures, if enacted, would alleviate the drug based problems in Sandy Hill. Of course, the problem of providing a safe supply of drugs remains.

There were two infrastructure changes suggested by attendees: better lighting at the corner of Nelson and Besserer as well as re-opening Nelson Street. Better lighting will expose drug deals and injecting as well as create a safer place for local residents. I suspect that dealers and addicts would find another location, probably still in Sandy Hill, close to the SHCHC. At least it would be a step in the direction of residents reclaiming their nearby streets.

It’s not clear what the advantage would be to removing the street closure except to possibly reduce loitering. However, since the SHCHC is at that corner, it’s likely that loitering will remain, perhaps at a reduced level. Recently, a group of residents of the block of Daly housing the Mission made a case to Action Sandy Hill for opening Daly to Waller. They think that this will increase traffic and discourage loiterers from blocking the street. Surrounding neighbours in other streets may be cool to the idea of more traffic.

Betsy Schuurman (betsyinsandyhill@gmail.com) has started canvassing for the establishment of a Neighbourhood Watch in Sandy Hill. She started on her block of Besserer, from Chapel to Augusta, and will welcome efforts to include other blocks. Ottawa Police Services requires at least a 50% participation rate for each block. One of the advantages of Neighbourhood Watch is its visibility to those who would contemplate theft or vandalism. Another is that it tends to bring neighbours together in support of a common cause.

Need easier methods of reporting, especially for non-emergency situations like loitering and suspected drug dealing. The police have recently changed their telephone number to 613-236-1222 ext. 7300 for non-emergency calls. You can also use an online form to report various illegal acts such as theft or drug dealings.  The emergency number to call is still 911. The OPS (ottawapolice.ca) has a presentation that explains how to contact them for emergencies as well as non-emergencies.

Provide more support and employment opportunities for people loitering and injecting. There are various agencies like Ontario Works, Ottawa Employment Hub, and Causeway Work Centre that are equipped to help people find employment. These organizations are especially organized to help people who have been unsuccessful in holding a conventional job. Are the various governments providing enough support to these agencies?

Provide more housing. This is a longstanding problem and there are agencies (local, provincial, and federal) that specialize in finding or funding housing for homeless people. It’s a tough job to find housing in Ottawa as the rental vacancy rate continues to drop. The latest vacancy rate for Ottawa from CMHC is 1.6%! An indication of how low this is comes from our councillor, Mathieu Fleury: he said that there was $900,000 last year in unused rent supplement money because so little rental housing could be found. The waiting list for subsidized housing is in excess of 10,000 households. Housing is expensive too. Households in the lowest income quartile spend an average of 73% of their income on housing.

Source: Canadian Rental Housing Index (rentalhousingindex.ca/en/#affordability_csd)

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In spite of the decision by all levels of government that housing must be found for homeless people, there are still too many living on the street. This is a profound problem and my next article will focus on government efforts to solve it.