Petition calling downtown shelters a cancer ‘misconstrued’ says business owner

A controversial petition referring to the three downtown homeless shelters as “a cancer” for residents and businesses in and around the ByWard Market has been taken down, and replaced with a new open letter.

Changing the logo of his website to an olive branch from that of a frowning ByWard Market farmer (and later a note that the logo had to be removed due to the threat of legal action), Patrick O’Shaughnessy says he was only trying to address a serious issue.

“The shelters in my immediate area make it very difficult to be good neighbors and I was simply trying to point out the issues with having 3 shelters in such close pr­­­oximity and their impact on residents and businesses,” a new letter on the site says. “Some people misconstrued what I wrote as somehow being in favor of the destruction of Shelters or even a direct challenge to homelessness. Nothing could be further from the truth – I believe deeply in providing a hand out and up to those in need.”

The initial letter, which was accompanied by a petition, called for the removal of all three local shelters from the area.

“The fact is that the so-called “clients” of the Shepherds destroy – steal – damage – prostitute – panhandle – defecate and loiter on our property and cost our business directly to the tune of often over 15K a month.  To say nothing of the indirect damages that come from them directly accosting customers and often conducting criminal activities, in front of them and in broad daylight without a single repercussion,” O’Shaughnessy wrote last week. “The Shelters, in their current configuration, must be diagnosed for what they are – a cancer which is now terminal for those residents and businesses in their vicinity. The prognosis is simple yet hard to hear – the cancer is spreading fast.”

Over 2,000 people signed the petition before it was removed.

The ByWard Market BIA distanced itself from O’Shaughnessy this week, saying he is not a member of the BIA and the petition painted the area in a negative light. The three shelters mentioned – the Shepherds of Good Hope, the Ottawa Mission and the Salvation Army – issued a joint response last week which did not mention the petition directly but extolled the work they do to support the most vulnerable citizens in Ottawa and expressed pride in their contributions to the city.

O’Shaughnessy’s new letter addresses the BIA’s concerns and suggests he was about to be the target of protests.

“The BIA in my area feels that I have painted the Byward Market in a bad light, which is and was the exact opposite of my goal.  I love and live here and wanted to highlight what I think are some very intense issues for the area.  However, I respect their opinion and will work with them and other stakeholders,” O’Shaughnessy says. “Today, I was informed that our business would be picketed if we did not remove the website.  The problem on my corner is difficult enough without having that worry.”

O’Shaughnessy says he has been extended an offer from Ottawa Mission director Peter Tilley and will contact him further to discuss the issues.

In a statement to CTV News, O'Shaughnessy says he has been speaking with other organizations as well.

"I believe it’s just time to ramp down this story and put a press on the need for affordable housing and housing first diversifies with success into all areas of our community."

With files from CTV Ottawa.