Letters & Opinion

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Co-ops in crisis

Hildegarde Henderson

What are co-ops, and why should we care about them? Ottawa is blessed with many co-ops. Co-op Voisins, which sits on the southern edge of Sandy Hill, is one of the best. In these changing times when affordable housing is in the daily news, Co-op Voisins provides 76 affordable apartments for all kinds of people from all walks of life.

There is a housing shortage here as elsewhere, and other co-ops beside Voisins are also in the midst of crises. The former administrators of Voisins have fled, and City of Ottawa staff have come in once a week to keep things going, but much has been lost. Committees run co-ops, and those running this co-op have largely fallen by the wayside during the troubles. Even the first responders who sound the alarm and take charge in emergencies cannot gain access to their chosen volunteer jobs. The parking lot and the bike room are limping along. The City has done nothing about these issues despite numerous reports and complaints. Other co-ops have also had serious problems.

I have been at this co-op for 18 years. I am an elderly person and have never experienced anything like this. The co-op had always been extremely well run and a friendly place to live, and now this beloved co-op is in crisis. There has been verbal abuse, harassment, and bullying. These eventualities have had a profound effect on the mental health of many of the residents of this and other co-ops. Some people are afraid to complain.

We of Co-op Voisins are very concerned about these issues and hope to open people’s eyes about what is going on here and in other co-ops. We love living in Sandy Hill and hope to be here for years to come. We do not want to see co-ops fall by the wayside.

Open letter from the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre

Our commitments to help keep streets safe and people healthy

To our neighbours across the Sandy Hill community:

Our team at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre would like to thank you for your frank, open feedback about very real concerns regarding your experiences as neighbours – housed and unhoused, residents and business owners alike. We are also grateful for your efforts in helping bring forward potential solutions with respect to addressing our shared concerns in a productive way. These difficult conversations initiate change.

Between February and April, community members from across Sandy Hill participated in a series of facilitated community conversations that helped us hear your concerns and ideas about how to keep our streets safe, our sidewalks clean, and our people healthy. We also heard that we need to do better as a health service agency and community partner.

As a result of these candid conversations, we would like to outline the following commitments to the community.

In the short-term, we are collaborating with members of the ASH Community Association and the City of Ottawa to establish a working group made up of stakeholders who can contribute ideas, resources, and help expand our collaborative network and solutions-driven approach. We are confident that this working group can assist in addressing the prevailing local needs or service gaps and likewise function as a spearhead for other related objectives.

Through this group, we will monitor the success of our collective efforts as well as any potential gaps in service. Our hope is that the working group will leverage data, partnerships, and innovative thinking in an effort to generate solutions.

SHCHC has identified and implemented measures within current operations to immediately expand respite services in Sandy Hill for those who are displaced. SHCHC drop-in services are now open Mondays to Fridays, 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Centre.  These services are designed to cover the period of highest demand. This timing has been coordinated to complement other drop-in services that offer respite spaces in the morning.

SHCHC has been able to reallocate resources, and we are in the process of expanding outreach services in the surrounding areas of the Centre. That means that this daily service, operating between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., will be implemented in short order to include the engagement of all community members in the area and respond to localized concerns in relation to those directly or indirectly impacted by harm reduction practices, overdose response, and community clean-up.

We continue to ramp-up to pre-pandemic service hours for the Consumption and Treatment Site. In June, this service will be made available on Saturdays and Sundays from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. We are confident that this will encourage people to access services within our space as an alternative to street use. We will monitor the impact for service users and neighbours before moving to our eventual model, which will involve operating the newly designed service seven-days-a-week from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

SHCHC is committed to supporting the working group through full engagement and any practical resource supports the group desires (e.g., meeting space/virtual meeting platform, clerical support, partner and funder relationships).

We will continue to play a leadership role in bringing the service provider community, funders, and elected officials together to address operational gaps.

In the medium to long-term, we will work hand-in-hand with the working group, partners, and funders to continue to adapt our services to the changing landscape and needs. We will continue to advocate for adequate funding to meet health and social needs, including affordable housing, equitable access to health and social services, and harm reduction. We will monitor new funding as well as opportunities to address current and emerging issues. We will continue to work with service providers and community partners to plan for safer inhalation services in Ottawa.

We commit to keeping the conversation going, to listen deeply to stakeholders, and to expand and create new ways to keep our community safe and healthy for everyone by finding solutions to our collective concerns. We are all connected by this shared experience and we here at SHCHC are deeply appreciative of this community’s drive to create a responsive, vibrant, and connected community for all.

Should you have any questions, comments, or feedback for our team, we can be reached at: info@sandyhillchc.on.ca or (613) 789-1500.

Thank you, and we look forward to hearing from you.


David Gibson

Executive Director