UPDATE: ByWard Market shelters issue joint response to petition calling them 'a cancer'

The three ByWard Market shelters -- the Ottawa Mission, the Salvation Army, and the Shepherds of Good Hope -- have written a joint response, obtained by CTV News, to a petition created by a local business owner who is demanding their removal from the area.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 2600 people had signed the petition, which had been created by business owner Patrick O'Shaunessy. In an open letter, he refers to the three shelters in the Market as a "cancer that is now terminal" and says clients of the shelters bring crime and property destruction to the area.

"The Ottawa Mission, Shepherds of Good Hope and The Salvation Army serve many of the most vulnerable people throughout our City who are either experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness due to physical or mental health conditions, poverty, or other factors," the joint statement from the three shelters says. "We also serve many who are not clients of our emergency shelters, but who come to us for support because their current situation forces them to choose between paying rent, buying food or clothing their families."

Joining The Newsfeed with Kristy Cameron on Sunday, executive director of the Ottawa Mission, Peter Tilley, says the petition and letter do not reflect the community's true feelings and calls the dialogue "painful."

Mayor Jim Watson chimed in saying "calling these centres that help some of the most poor and vulnerable people 'a cancer' is disgraceful."

Referring to the shelters as cancers is completely unacceptable and not helpful when the creator of that petition attack the most vulnerable who are seeking help at shelters We have more police in Market thuan any other part of the city. I welcome your ideas to make market safer

— Jim Watson (@JimWatsonOttawa) March 5, 2018

One of the shelters in question, the Salvation Army, is planning to move out of the ByWard Market and into a new facility on Montreal Road in Vanier, but their attempts to do so have been met with resistance from area businesses and residents. While the City of Ottawa did approve a rezoning application to allow the Salvation Army to build its facility, which includes 140 emergency shelter beds, those residents have promised to take the case to the Ontario Municipal Board.

O'Shaunessy's petition refers to this fact, saying, "The mere mention of diversifying these shelters into other areas causes an immediate and powerful “SOS”.  Why? – because they know that these shelters are less about the valiancy of helping those in need than they are about being incubators for crime and addictions."

But, in their joint statement, the three shelters say their programs and services are aimed at reducing those problems, by providing addiction services, job training, and supportive housing.

"Our staff members are all professionally trained, and we also rely on the support of hundreds of dedicated and compassionate volunteers," the statement says. "We are all publicly accountable institutions and report back regularly to the community on our work."

The joint response ends by saying the three shelters are proud of the work they do and the role they play in supporting both the ByWard Market and the City of Ottawa.

With files from CTV Ottawa.