Ottawa is changing in a good way. The increased urbanization of the core has re-energized communities like Westboro, Kitchissippi, Sandy Hill and parts of Lower Town. The renovation of Lansdowne Park proceeds apace, soon to breathe new life into the Glebe and the downtown core (much to the delight of Ottawa sports lovers). The federal government is renovating the Parliament Buildings (and not a moment too soon) as well as the old Union Station/Government Conference Centre, which will house the Senate while the Senators’ offices on the Hill are renovated. The largest barrier to success in Ottawa continues to be the massively incompetent National Capital Commission (NCC). It is astonishing to me that with the many cuts the Harper government has implemented over the years, they have let this wasteful and useless agency remain. They deliver nothing of value to the region and constantly interfere with Ottawa’s City Council, all elected officials. If you go to the NCC’s web site, they describe their mandate as the following:
Our goal is to ensure that Canada’s Capital Region is a source of national pride and significance.
That is where the joke begins. If you walk a block from Parliament Hill, you see evidence of the NCC’s incompetence. Sparks Street remains a desolate place lacking greenery and little life past 5 p.m. A block south of the Hill, the Rideau Street strip between Sussex and King Edward remains a gritty, grimy scene full of meth addicts, drug dealers and homeless people struggling with mental health challenges and other issues. They need help. Real help. Currently “help” is four homeless shelters in the ByWard Market conveniently near a large LCBO store and The Beer Store. The “shelters” are now a 25-year stop-gap solution where the homeless are given beds each night, a meal in the morning and then sent on their way until the next night. Each day, troubled homeless people with mental issues, drug addicts and petty criminals go roaming about the ByWard Market, harassing people for money, breaking into cars, defecating on lawns, destroying private property, selling drugs and generally doing bad things. What has the NCC done about Sparks Street and Rideau Street and the ByWard Market as part of their mandate to ensure that Canada’s Capital Region is a source of national pride and significance? Well, they promote them as tourist destinations! Contrast that with what the world-famous Lonely Planet travel guide says to tourists visiting Ottawa: “Avoid Rideau Street between Sussex Drive and King Edward Avenue. In the daytime it’s cluttered with smoke-spewing buses and hordes of commuters, and in the evening it’s the preferred hangout for vagrants. The friendly ByWard Market can get a bit of an edge in the late evening with minor drug use and prostitute traffic.” Go NCC go!
Ottawa’s Rideau Street looks like it could be a set scene for an episode of The Walking Dead. A coordinated federal/provincial/municipal program is required to clean up the core of the Capital. The plan should focus on long-term solutions to help the homeless get off the streets and into long-term treatment programs or their own homes. A goal should be to permanently close the “homeless shelters” in the ByWard Market.
Providing temporary shelter, a bowl of soup and a bed for a night is not a solution to homelessness. There are truly exceptional citizens who give graciously of their time and effort to help the homeless in Ottawa. We must provide them with the tools and support required to deliver a more sustainable solution to homelessness. A great start would be for the feds to abolish the NCC and create a volunteer Agency of Citizens from our region – developers, councillors, police representatives and social workers – people who really care about our city and its people and reputation. Use annual NCC funds from the canceled agency to develop a long-term suitable plan to clean up the Market and help the homeless. I guarantee you this will work… and no one would even notice the NCC was gone. This city is worth it. Merry Christmas.