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Overnight shelter moving to federal government building in Westboro

The federal government announced Friday it's offering the Graham Spry Building on Lanark Avenue in Ottawa's Westboro neighbourhood 'as a temporary emergency overnight centre for those seeking refuge from the cold.' (Andrew Lee/CBC - image credit)
The federal government announced Friday it's offering the Graham Spry Building on Lanark Avenue in Ottawa's Westboro neighbourhood 'as a temporary emergency overnight centre for those seeking refuge from the cold.' (Andrew Lee/CBC - image credit)

Barely a week after opening an emergency overflow shelter in Ottawa's Britannia neighbourhood, the city appears poised to move the facility to a disused federal government building closer to downtown.

The overnight shelter at Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre opened Jan.10 in response to growing demand as the winter cold set in. It has 25 beds and is open from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. for people who have been referred by other city shelters that are full.

Bay ward Coun. Theresa Kavanagh said while there's a desperate need for more overnight shelter space, that location — a nearly one-hour bus journey from downtown — and the facility's lack of amenities presents problems.

"We know it's not ideal, it's not an ideal location, it's not set up very well for overnight, for example. It doesn't have showers and it was never used for an emergency centre before," Kavanagh, in whose ward Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre is located, told CBC.

On Thursday, the city told CBC the overflow centre had only been used two nights — Tuesday and Wednesday — by a total of four individuals since opening its doors last week.

Feds offer Graham Spry Building 

On Friday, the federal government announced it had signed an agreement with the city to allow the temporary use of 250 Lanark Ave., near Westboro station and the Transitway. The building is not only closer to downtown — about six kilometres — it also has showers and space for up to 45 beds.

The former Health Canada office is one of 10 federally owned properties in the National Capital Region that has been identified for disposal by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC).

In a news release, PSPC said the overflow shelter is expected to open Saturday.

"Expected to open on January 20, 2024, the centre will provide a safe and warm space for up to 45 people at a time," PSPC said.

"This gives us more opportunity to be ready. It's a larger facility and it'll help a great deal. It's a lot closer to amenities, a lot easier to get to," Kavanagh said. "This is going to help a lot."

New location gets 'thumbs-ups'

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, whose ward includes the Graham Spry Building, said the new location will be available for overnight stays only, like the Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre.

"It really is a place to sleep overnight and get a shower, without any daytime services," he said.

Leiper said despite the short notice, response from residents has been positive since the news was posted on Facebook.

"The feedback thus far has been a lot of thumbs-ups," he said.

PSPC said the temporary shelter agreement with the city will expire March 31.

The City of Ottawa has not issued a formal announcement about new overflow location, instead referring CBC to PSPC's news release. Nor has the city confirmed that the shelter at Ron Kolbus Lakeside Centre will now close.