Shelter from the stormy blast

Hilary Duff

Starting in December, St. Paul’s Eastern will become a daytime respite centre for people needing to spend time indoors while observing social distance guidelines.
Photo Hilary Duff

A group of downtown social service agencies have banded together with the City of Ottawa to open a new cold weather respite centre on the lower level of St. Paul’s-Eastern United Church, at Daly Avenue and Cumberland Street.

Operating from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week, the respite centre offers washrooms, takeaway meals, and warmth during the day for those who are unhoused during the frigid winter months, particularly to clients of The Ottawa Mission, Salvation Army, and Shepherds of Good Hope. The centre is scheduled to open in December.

This new resource is run in collaboration with a number of groups, including The Ottawa Mission, Centre 454, the City of Ottawa, and Ottawa Community Housing. While the Mission and Centre 454 have their own facilities and services, they lack the indoor space to safely host the 45 to 50 people expected to use the respite centre.

Take The Ottawa Mission, for example. In a non-pandemic winter, Mission clients could sit in the building’s cramped waiting room before the dining hall opened for meals. “That’s not an option in these times,” says Executive Director Peter Tilley, citing physical distancing guidelines.“This [respite centre] could be an answer to alleviating some of the overcrowding in shelters during the days.” There will be no overnight stays.

For its part, the Mission will be providing nutritious food and snacks to respite centre clients. At the time of publishing, the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre was still investigating how it might support the new facility, but says this likely would entail providing harm reduction workers to the space.

Reverend Laurie McKnight of St. Paul’s-Eastern notes that Community Policing will provide security outside and garbage will be collected. In fact, church staff anticipates the corner of Cumberland and Daly will be tidier and more secure due to daily respite centre staffing.

St Pauls respite centre
Photo Hilary Duff

McKnight says the church has served as an overflow space for the Mission in the past, but this is the first time the lower hall will become a daily drop-in location. Sunday services have been suspended since the start of the pandemic, so there’s plenty of space for the church’s latest tenants.

Pre-opening, the centre was still determining the best way to limit drop-in visitors to those who don’t have housing. Tilley with The Ottawa Mission speculates the centre may use a badge or tag system to ensure clients are coming from one of the nearby shelters. Names and contact information will be collected at the door as a way to manage contact tracing, and the centre will follow all Ottawa Public Health guidelines, including supplying non-medical masks, hand sanitizer, physically distanced seating, and more.

The City of Ottawa is paying for the rental license of St. Paul’s-Eastern until March 30, 2021. While the rental amount has not been disclosed, McKnight says it’s enough to cover heat and hydro for the space.

The St. Paul’s-Eastern respite centre will be the third facility of its kind in the city, with two others located at the Tom Brown Arena, near Bayview LRT station, and the Bernard-Grandmaître Arena in Vanier. All three follow the success of a pilot project that ran from April to October at the McNabb Recreation Centre in Centretown.

While this won’t be the first collaboration between different social agencies, Tilley says initiatives like this take on added importance during a pandemic. “[Creating this respite centre] was about doing what’s best for the homeless and bringing all the partners together to do that,” he says. “It’s a huge relief.”

For immediate concerns about the centre, residents may call respite centre operations at 613-806-7306, Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Outside of these hours, this number will be forwarded directly to 311 for response. You can also email the centre at

See also: Letter from a neighbour, page 2; newsbite on a temporary women’s shelter coming to Rideau St., page 5; and farewell to St. Paul’s-Eastern, page 8.