Councillor Plante’s Feb. 9 ward meeting: Homelessness is top of mind

Larry Newman

Councillor Stéphanie Plante and I spoke recently about her meeting with residents of Sandy Hill at the Working Title Kitchen on Feb. 9. When I dropped in to the cafe, I found Stéphanie Plante and her assistant, Carina Pogoler, in the midst of a large lunch crowd, sitting around a longish table with about six other people. More Sandy Hill residents came as I stood there just watching and talking to Pogoler.

When I realized that there was no room at this inn, I left and arranged for a follow-up later with Plante. As it happens, the crush was eventually too much for this kind of meeting, so the councillor and residents moved to the unoccupied small room at the rear of the restaurant.

The big topic of conversation was homelessness. It has been clear to all of us for many years that, with the shelters, injection sites, and day programs, Sandy Hill streets are sometimes almost crowded with homeless people. Shelters are full. Many don’t want to sleep in shelters because of theft and noise and other problems that arise when too many people try to sleep in crowded rooms. What to do?

I believe Plante is sensitive to this problem. She mentioned an Ottawa organization called Options Bytown that is working to solve this problem. One of its main jobs is to provide housing for those who cannot afford the normal rental prices in Sandy Hill. Most of its funding is from the City. Other housing support comes from the federal government which has just provided about $170 million dollars to the city to assist in building more low-priced housing. Plante wants to know why there isn’t more funding by the province. “Where is Doug Ford?” she said.

I brought up the recent controversy around Councillor Shawn Menard’s agreement with the Katasa Group who will build a high rise on Carling and Bronson avenues. As reported in the January 31 Ottawa Citizen, Menard and the developer met after the City had agreed to authorize the construction. During this meeting Menard asked Katasa to make additional commitments, among them that more low-cost housing will be built and some traffic calming features will be included. The developer agreed to foot the extra bill of $300,000 and an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) was created. Menard was criticized at a council meeting for this “deal.”

Plante told me that the issue wasn’t brought up in the Working Title ward meeting. She didn’t seem to have a problem with the MOU. When asked why the issue was appearing so frequently in the media, she attributed it to confusion about timing. Usually, agreements like this are made earlier in the site plan approval process. She didn’t think this was “a shady deal,” just a councillor looking out for his constituents.

Plante will again be in Sandy Hill for ward meetings from 1 to 3 p.m. at small businesses: April 5 at Safi Fine Foods and May 31 at the Happy Goat. She knows there is not much room at Safi’s but she says, with a smile, “No problem.  I’ll solve all of Sandy Hill’s problems before the meeting at Safi’s.” I like confidence in a councillor.

MPP Lucille Collard (left) joined Councillor Plante (2nd from left) at the Feb 9 Ward meeting at Working Title Kitchen.
Photo: HS Canada / Philip Owen