Dear Honourable Mayor Jim Watson of the City of Ottawa,
My name is Gabrielle Fayant. I write to you today, not as a board member of Odawa Native Friendship Centre, but as a youth, as a woman, as a Metis person, as an Aboriginal person, as a citizen of Ottawa and as a concerned human being. I am writing to you in regards to the sudden decision made by the City of Ottawa’s Housing Service Branch to close Shawenjeagamik Drop-In Centre also known as 510 Rideau.
You and I have met on several occasions. I was a co-MC for the Mayor’s Youth Summit in 2012, we met at the Children’s Pow Wow in 2014, at the Aboriginal Awareness Day of the City of Ottawa in 2013 and at other various youth and Aboriginal committees and councils the City supports therefore I have seen your commitment to many important causes from youth empowerment to Aboriginal culture and rights to ending violence against women and two-spirited people. I have been a juror for Aboriginal funding and I have been apart of Aboriginal programming that was funded by the City therefore I have seen first hand the City’s priority to engage the Aboriginal community. I have always viewed the work done by the City of Ottawa for youth, for women and Aboriginal people as positive and I still do.
I believe that in the case of 510 Rideau, the City of Ottawa may have been advised incorrectly by the Housing Services Branch, led by Shelley Vanbuskirk, as well as the Aboriginal Homelessness Community Advisory Board (ACAB) members on the importance and dire need of 510 Rideau, not only to the Aboriginal community but all residents of Ottawa.
The peer-review process that was administrated by the City was flawed, the same peer-review committee has been flagged by other homelessness funding streams as in conflict-of-interest. Even though, the funding for 510 Rideau does in fact does come from a federal stream of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), it is the City’s responsibility to ensure fair process and conflict-free allocation of funds. In the case of 510 Rideau, this was not done.
Additionally in August of 2014, Senior Program Administrator, Shelley Vanbuskirk verbally indicated to the Reverend of St. Paul’s Eastern United Church that 510 would no longer be funded in 2015. This verbal mention came prior to the Request for Offer (RFO) which was released in December 2014.
Despite the flawed process that City is indeed responsible for, the truth remains that 510 Rideau serves as a last resort and best place for hope for our homeless and poverty stricken community members, now they will have absolutely nothing. 510 serves as a preventative measure for its clients, without 510 we are bracing for relapse into drugs and alcohol, higher rates of incarceration, increase of missing and murdered women, self-harm and lastly, suicides within the community. This is a matter of life and death. This is a retraumatization for those healing from residential schools, racism, and abuse.
I urge you to remember the time when you fought to keep the Glebe Community Centre open. Remember how you felt went the city council at the time made a harsh decision without knowing all the facts and the negative impacts the Glebe community would face if their community Centre closed. You fought to keep the community Centre open so the Glebe community could prosper, be healthy and content, we are fighting to keep 510 open so that our community members will survive
Clients that use 510 come to the Centre for basic needs such as food, to take a shower, to do their laundry, to use a computer, to get away from the cold for a few hours and peer-to-peer support and safety. Many clients that come to 510 are not allowed at other Aboriginal organizations or the Police will be called. Many clients will not go to other shelters at all. 510 serves 60,000 meals annually and serves 500 clients on an annual basis. These are just a few of the reasons why 510 is in fact a priority to the entire Ottawa community. The closure of 510 Rideau will impact the entire Ottawa community with many issues that 510 has been successful in preventing for so long.
To ensure that this kind of chaos does not inflict the City of Ottawa, I ask that the City of Ottawa reinstate funding to 510 Rideau for the start of the new fiscal year of 2015. The City of Ottawa has the responsibility to gather a new peer-review committee, a committee that is conflict free, community involved and homeless peers can agree with. The City also has the responsibility to hire staff that is culturally aware and sensitive to the current state of the Aboriginal community including all Nations, Metis, First Nation and Inuit that reside in the Nation’s Capital. If these solutions cannot be realized with regard to 510, a separate funding pool should be developed to meet the needs of Ottawa's Aboriginal homeless community.
Please take these words to your heart, to your spirit and help save your Aboriginal brothers and sisters.
Miigwech, Hiy Hiy