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Somerset Street West Votes: Questions to all Ward 14 Ottawa Municipal Candidates

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My responses to the residents of Somerset Street West.

Safe Injection Site

Some candidates are open to considering a Safe Injection Site within Somerset Ward. We know for a fact that the Ontario Addiction Treatment Centres (OATC) – Ottawa (known commonly as the Meth Clinic) on 401 Somerset St. West has been the cause of the increased levels of crime.

It seems obvious that, considering the City’s unsuccessful attempt to integrate the OATC in a community already dealing with a slum-like situation, a Safe Injection Site will not be efficient and will enhance the level of crime.

  • Please explain why we are not considering any other solutions such as rehabilitation programs where people can actually receive support, treatment and help?
  • Also, why are we considering Somerset Ward yet again as a place to harbor this injection site, when venues such as Kanata or Orleans could take this issue on – as it seems to be an issue with which these communities contend.
  • Please explain why we couldn’t ask that all wards contribute to support treatment as opposed to a Safe Injection Site.

Harm reduction programs are crucial for Ottawa.  Some are already being delivered by Ottawa Public Health, the Province and some community organizations.  I’ve had the opportunity of touring the injection site in Vancouver where they are doing great work.  However I am not convinced that the model used in Vancouver is what we need here in Ottawa.  We need a model that will work for us here in the Capital.  Something that will service the needs of all the communities across the city.

Apart from harm reduction, one of the important areas I would like to focus on over the next four years in working with those dealing with addiction.  Tens of thousands of our friends and neighbours struggle daily with this disease.

  • As your city councillor I will work in partnership with the City’s current programs, private industry and other levels of government to establish more long-term treatment centres to be located across the city which will get people on a road to recovery quicker.

Currently addiction recovery programs reside within multiple organizations which make the recovery process difficult and cumbersome for many.  Wait times between steps are often too long and lower the recovery success rate causing relapses to be more frequent and severe.

We need to offer an integral, logical and reasonable recovery program that helps addicts to access a suitable recovery program in a timely manner.  The time that a person has to wait between a detox center and a recovery house needs to be logical with its recovery.

As your city councillor, I will work with the City of Ottawa Public Health and community organizations to ensure services and programs are linked and made easier to access so that an addict is not expected to visit 3 or 4 different locations at different times to receive the support they need.

Re-engineering the Somerset Street West community space: Beer Store / OATC / Dundonald Park / Half-way housing / Absence of community policing center

Somerset Street West harbors a concentration of buildings offering services and housing that have become quite problematic: Beer Store, a concentration of half-way houses harboring federal offenders (men and women in conflict with the law), OATC, slum-like Dundonald Park.  The impact is negative and affects property value and safety for residents on that street.

Criminal activity is now rampant on Somerset Street West. Issues happen weekly: drug use, vandalism, violence, women being battered and mugged in the street in broad daylight, aggressive individuals (men and women in conflict with the law) take over the street, stealing, graffiti — and this year, it has been the stage of a murder.

This situation has become worst ever since the policing center has been moved. It used to be situated beside the OATC. This used to be a deterrent to illegal and criminal activity. Now, the street is host to half-way houses in front of which there is a Beer Store that fuels the destructive and aggressive behaviors of its residents due to alcoholism. It also entices people who are battling substance abuse to stagnate within their rehabilitation – if any. These individuals then take over Dundonald Park, after leaving the Beer Store or the OATC, to drink their alcohol and practice criminal or illicit activities during the day and at dusk. 

 What will you do to ensure that:

  • The Beer Store no longer is situated at this address – as it incites aggressive and destructive behavior and criminal activity to take over the park during the day and at dusk.
  • The policing center is reintegrated on the same street where it counts (between the OATC and the half-way houses where the murder took place)
  • Change the procedures for zoning so that only commercial buildings that do not contravene with the mandate of drug rehabilitation, reduction of crime, or re-gentrification are allowed to be built on the street. We found out that the Beer Store is going to be even bigger. This means that the community will contend with a greater issue on its hands as its patrons will most certainly spill over in the park.
  • Change the hyper-concentration of halfway houses, OATC and beer store within a few blocs of each other, and on the same street.

I am quite aware of the constant struggles the community has had to endure for years due to the beer store and park proximity, especially since the Somerset Community Police Centre has been removed.

Throughout the campaign I have often heard from residents, whether at the doors or while walking down the street, that many simply do not feel safe in their own neighbourhoods.

In 2011, the Somerset Community Police Centre (CPC) located at 393 Somerset Street closed indefinitely leaving the area without a constant police presence and a safe location for residents to go to when looking for help or information.  As someone who attended the monthly Somerset CPC meetings as an individual and as a member of the Centretown Citizen`s Community Association, I have from the word go said that closing the CPC was a huge mistake.

  • As your city councillor, I will work with the Ottawa Police Services Board and the OPS to bring back our community police centre.

Unfortunately it seems as though the beer store is here to stay once the property is redeveloped as a mixed used building, at least for the time being.  That said, it does not mean that we must sit back and accept the status quo.

  • As your city councillor, I will immediately organize a series of Community Discussions on Safety to come up with solid ideas on how we can make our neighbourhoods safer.  As each community have different safety concerns, these discussions will be held in the various areas within Somerset Ward.  We must take back our streets and our parks.As your city councillor, I will review the zoning by-laws for the area and see what can be done to increase the area`s safety for all.
    • I suggest that we look at the redevelopment as the new location of the re-instated community police centre.  A constant police presence in close proximity of Dondonald Park might be a viable deterrent for many.

Duke of Somerset

The Duke of Somerset has been more than an eye sore. It has become a site with a reputation for fostering illegal and criminal activity. It is a dangerous site in shambles and covered in graffiti. Its owner is not respecting by-laws and has been bullying  the mayor and council. The impact is that people are hesitant to explore Bank Street and encourage its shops. Graffiti is rampant. Vagrants are taking over the street corner, and the site attracts many aggressive people. There is an accumulation of trash behind the building which also offers itself as a shelter for criminal activity. It also encourages vagrants to loiter and encourage aggressive behavior to take place. It is filthy and has a negative impact on property value.

  •  What will you do to have the Duke of Somerset issue resolved?
  •  What will be your timelines and how will you go about resolving it?
  •  How will you ensure that the community decided what goes there as opposed to the OMB?

Derelict buildings have plagued our community in Somerset for far too long and our current by-laws simply do not have enough bite to deal with the issue.  This is an issue that I have been talking about for the last couple of years.

  • As your city councillor, I will re-visit and amend these by-laws to ensure that decaying buildings whether prominently on a main street corner or on our residential streets, are no longer allowed to simply sit and rot for years.  It is important that the by-laws be clear, without escape clauses and set a reasonable timeline for  demolition and/or redevelopment..

Somerset House has been an embarrassment for far too long.  It has been a difficult challenge without a doubt because of the court case.  While the issue of the money owed by the property owner to the City for policing the area till it was secure was before the courts, no amount of names on any sort of petition would have made a difference.  Nothing could be done until the case was settled.

However, the court case has been settled and action must be taken now to redeveloped the site and bring pride back to that prominent corner of our community.  I know that the Mayor and the current City Councillor have been pushing hard since the court case has been settled but we need a council decision on a re-write of the bylaws so that this will never happen again.  I will take charge of re-writing said bylaws once elected to council.

I have seen graphics of the new redevelopment and I think it looks great as they plan to keep to historic look to the building.  But let’s get it down now.

The LGBTTQ community and its identity

Ottawa has been very timid about the existence of a gay village. In an era where our society at large is contending with pervasive bullying in our community toward your LGBTTQ youth members, it is essential that youth understand they have a place where they can feel safe and proud.

Many petitions were signed so that the existence of visible signs might go up and demonstrate the existence of a Village.

However, instead of a village that celebrates its presence like the flamboyant Chinatown gate and red street signs, or the red Senators Lane signs on Elgin, the LGBTTQ community had to fight to be imposed a grayish quasi-invisible and almost absent signage throughout Bank Street.

  • What will you do to emphasize the presence of the LGBTTQ Village in Ottawa and give its LGBTTQ members a place to belong without shame, similar to the Montreal or Toronto Villages?

I have been very involved in the LGBTTQ community over the last 30 years.  From walking in all 29 pride parades to being Community Co-Chair of the Ottawa Police Liaison Committee for the LGBTTQ Communities.  I have served on a number of boards such as PTS for five years and volunteered for many other organizations such as Bruce House for 12 years.

I agree that getting a Village on Bank Street was indeed a great struggle but we finally got it done thanks to a few hard working individuals (Glenn Crawford, Kevin Martin and Ian Capstick to name a few) and a great number of dedicated volunteers.

I have attended many of the Friends of the Village meetings, fundraisers, organized one of its movie nights and was a member of the Bank Street BIA`s first banner committee.

One of the biggest challenges was working with the past Executive Director of the Bank Street BIA.  He had never embraced the Village as a part of Bank Street and prevented much of its promotion and growth.

However, now with Christine Leadman at the helm of the BIA, things are looking up.  The Village is now part of the BIA and receives an annual budget.  Christine, her team and the Village committee have been working hard at doing more promotion and holding many events on the street.  One such event was bringing the pride parade back to the Village.

  • As your city councillor, I will work with the community and the Bank Street BIA to bring more events such as the pride day celebration, Glow Fair which was a great success this summer and programming for our LGBTTQ youth.

I would also like to see more LGBTTQ banners displayed, perhaps with images of those who have paved the way and fought for our right such as Marie Robertson, Barry Deeprose and so on.