Salvation Army’s Proposed Emergency Shelter in Vanier: A Community Hub or Community Fortress?

There is a very brief reference on pages 16/17 in the planners’ November 14, 2017 report dealing with the proposed Salvation Army shelter in Vanier to a subject matter known as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design or CPTED. Simply stated, CPTED focuses on the proper design and the effective use of the built environment or form that can lead to a reduction in the fear and incidence of crime and an improvement in the quality of life. As I noted in my previous blog, the fear of increased crime is a main concern of communities with respect to homelessness.

A CPTED Review report was prepared by a consultant for the Salvation Army and was submitted to the City as supporting documentation to the planning applications. The CPTED report was considered by planning staff as part of their overall review process and summarized in their report as follows: “security strategies have been incorporated in to the design such as the setback from Montreal Road, secure perimeter fencing, multiple access points, safe and secure outdoor spaces for clients, interior separation of uses, strategic positioning of staff offices, electronic access control and CCTV camera systems”.

There are two noteworthy and related points regarding the application of CPTED initiatives for the proposed shelter. First, the identified CPTED strategies are focused primarily on, to use a favourite planners’ phrase, site specific – built form and urban design features of the project. Second, the emphasis on the CPTED initiatives is primarily targeted on the safety and security of clients using the facilities or services provided by the shelter as opposed to addressing the broader community fear of increased crime. There is some design consideration given to discouraging loitering but mainly in terms of the main entrance to the premises.

The planning report does however use the sound land use principles doctrine once again as the reason for not considering community concerns around crime related issues. According to the report, such concerns “are not considerations in determining land use compatibility and the department is not in a position to conclude that a homeless individual will engage in criminal behaviourissues of police enforcement will be part of effective implementation of this development moving forward, just as it is part of the existing Booth facility shelter use” (p.48/49).



Not being that familiar with CPTED concepts myself, a business associate of mine and an expert in CPTED, Steve Woolrich from Rethink Urban, pointed out to me that CPTED goes beyond site specific urban design and built form considerations with respect to crime prevention. What is commonly referred to as 2nd Generation CPTED strategies, the concept has been expanded to include principles that are more holistic and integrated with the surrounding physical environment and the people who reside in it. Second Generation CPTED crime prevention strategies are based on four principles all of which are applicable to Vanier:

  • Social Cohesion: communities where residents participate in community life, have a sense of responsibility, share a common vision and a feeling of belonging and, seek methods of conflict resolution.
  • Community Culture: communities have a positive sense of identity and pride and a shared history. A strong sense of community can encourage the neighbourhood to adopt positive outlooks and behaviours including self-policing.
  • Connectivity: communities are able to create relationships with external support networks ultimately strengthening the options available to solve local problems and development related planning decisions.
  • Threshold Capacity: Like ecosystems, communities have a finite carrying capacity and available resources (including economic) for certain land uses and activities. It is important to recognize this capacity in order to maintain the neighbourhood ecosystem by promoting human scale and pedestrian oriented land uses and activities. Land use diversity provides the necessary conditions to support sustainable social and physical environments, multiple community interests and positive social interactions. If the threshold capacity of a community is exceeded (e.g. too many bars or nightclubs), a tipping point is reached where the functionality and quality of life of the neighbourhood is affected resulting in increased levels of crime and fear of crime.

Neither the City planners nor the senior representatives from the Salvation Army including their consultants, addressed the above four crime prevention principles in any significant detail focussing instead, once again, on site specific – physical and design elements. A recent white paper published by the International CPTED Association makes an important conclusion that is relevant to the Salvation Army / Vanier context:

“It is apparent that 1st Generation CPTED and Situational Crime Prevention strategies don’t solve the challenges and conditions that produce or promote homelessness. One challenge with 1st Generation CPTED and SCP tactics is their limited, short range, impact. They relocate the homeless from one location of a city to another out of sight location, which is little more than using displacement as tool of forced relocation.”

Although not specific to CPTED, a study prepared by researchers from the University of Calgary examined the relationships between homeless shelter delivery, community and the built environment by interviewing 50 expert practitioners. The authors determined that community relationships such as perceptions of the homeless and of public safety, the challenges of NIMBYism and positive community involvement were key in successful service delivery. Another critical element was the built environment including shelter congruency, shelter size, shelter location and accessibility and a shelter’s community impact – community impacts were effectively excluded from any consideration in the City planning report or during the 3-day public consultation session at Planning Committee.

The University of Calgary research results also suggested that service providers should avoid large monolithic structures, which stand apart from their surroundings…[which] tend to hold dominating presence over both the street and pedestrians…become ghettoized and often avoided by the public.” The study noted that smaller shelters that accommodate between 30 and 70 clients can be more effectively integrated into the community. Canadian cities like Toronto have recently taken initiative in supporting the development of smaller sized shelters  (see my previous blog about other examples of where smaller sized shelters are preferred).

Large shelters may also further reinforce the stigmatization associated with homelessness. In an earlier blog I quoted from a Housing First report from the City of Lethbridge which is worth repeating here:

“Paying attention to the service delivery model and how people access services is central in planning successful teams. An integrated service delivery model is essential but is often misunderstood as a centralized service where all programs are run out of the same building. In fact, overly centralized service delivery can undermine efforts to move people out of homelessness. The separation of services is very important.”

The proposed Salvation Army 350-bed shelter in Vanier is about twice as large as the existing Booth Centre in the Byward Market and represents approximately 78% of the total shelter beds currently available in the Market from 3 service providers: The Salvation Army Booth Centre, The Ottawa Mission and, the Shepherds of Good Hope. The proposed Centre would be one of the largest shelters in Canada. Out of the 401 emergency shelters Canada wide maintained in the 2016 data base by Employment and Social Development Canada, only two shelters are larger, both in Calgary. The average bed-size for all 401 shelters is 38. Ninety-two percentage of the emergency shelters have 99 beds or less. Only 2.5% have over 200 beds including the YM/YWCA shelter in Ottawa (294 beds).  Of the 286 transitional housing shelters in Canada, only 7 (2%) have more than 100 beds (none in Ottawa).

Pie Chart

Source: Employment and Social Development Canada

The Salvation Army’s planners describe the proposed development as a “truly mixed-use” community hub. From a land use perspective, it is neither. The proposal may be a mixed used facility in terms of the services, programs and facilities offered but such activities are targeted to only one user – the homeless population. Similarly, the term “community hub” refers to the demographic community of homeless persons (not only clients of the facility but also city-wide visitors) and not to a neighbourhood hub in terms of a meeting place or local centre of social and economic activities. While the proposal does describe the outdoor courtyard space as offering a potential location for community events, the CPTED and urban design features project a development that is closer to a fortress located in the interior middle of a large urban block than a community hub.

The principle of Threshold Capacity closely mirrors the many issues raised around the proposed Salvation Army facility and in particular its location on Vanier’s Mainstreet and its impact on the future economic revitalization of Montreal Road. In my previous blog, I looked at the potential impacts of the relocation of Booth Centre to Vanier on community crime levels and the fear of increased crime.


I have stated in several previous posts that neither the applicant (Salvation Army and their consultants) nor the City’s planning department presented any real assessment of the community’s social and economic impacts of the proposed 350-bed shelter on Montreal Road. There was a consultant’s study prepared for the Salvation Army that estimated the economic benefits of the project but the results of the analysis were very dubious and one-sided since the study only focussed on what it presumed to be positive spinoffs. Unable to think beyond the “sound planning principles” and built form box, the best argument that the City planners can come up with is that proposed development will not preclude other properties to develop along Traditional Mainstreet policies because of its limited site frontage on Montreal Road and interior location and orientation within the large urban block. The Salvation Army’s consultants also do not contribute much in understanding what the impact that the proposed development will have on Traditional Mainstreet revitalization noting that,

“The Salvation Army is eager to be a part of the positive change already occurring along Montreal Road, with the new centre acting as one of the catalysts for the continued renewal of the Vanier neighbourhood. The state-of- the-art centre will address real and perceived security concerns through excellence in design and environmental design strategies that will ensure the new facility becomes a community facility for all.” (FOTENN Planning Rationale report: p.3)


Having excellence in design is a positive attribute but a more relevant question is how will this project strengthen the economic function of the Business Improvement Area as Vanier’s primary shopping destination and business centre?

It is difficult to arrive at definitive conclusions around the question if Vanier’s Mainstreet will reach a tipping point as a result of the relocation of Booth Centre in terms of experiencing continued economic stagnation. The proposed project will not be an economic stimulus to the area as claimed by the Salvation Army and their consultants.

It is also difficult not to think that the placement of a 350-bed mega-shelter will increase crime in the neighbourhood or at minimum, increase the level of fear of crime. Such a large concentration of homeless men will attract criminal activity from outside the community and such activity will likely end up on the street because of the security design features incorporated into the project. Furthermore, the homeless number could potentially be over 350 since the proposed centre is also provided social support services to the overall homeless community in Ottawa.

One problem is that the inner city neighbourhoods like the Byward Market and Centretown will continue to experience new upper end commercial and residential developments attracting more higher income residents to live downtown. This in turn will result in greater pressure on pushing out poorer people and the homeless and undesirable land uses like emergency shelters. This is not just happening in the downtown but also, to a lesser extent, in other older neighbourhoods experiencing gentrification – Westboro, Mechanicsville/Hintonburg, Little Italy, New Edinburgh etc.

Vanier remains as one of the last enclaves of modest income, affordable housing communities in Ottawa but at the same, the community has been viewed as being the next neighbourhood to experience revitalization. Vanier has seen new developments recently but mainly in highly desirable locations like near the Rideau River and the New Edinburgh area. The Mainstreet along Montreal Road continues to struggle economically. The construction of a new, large 66,000 sq. ft. mega-shelter with 350 beds will have a dominant physical and social presence in this part of Vanier for many decades in the future.

Although off topic a little, I would like to end by stating that it is unfortunate that the Salvation Army failed to really consult with the Vanier community and with the Business Improvement Area to come up with more innovative initiatives to address the needs of the most disadvantaged. Without getting into detail here, there are examples in Canada, United States and elsewhere where local businesses (Business Improvement Districts in the USA) have worked with local municipalities, community support groups and the homeless in areas like crime prevention, street improvements and employment. Such collaboration would have worked well in promoting the key 2nd Generation CPTED principles of Social Cohesion, Community Culture and Connectivity – attributes that Vanier has exemplified in the past.


5 thoughts on “Salvation Army’s Proposed Emergency Shelter in Vanier: A Community Hub or Community Fortress?

  1. Another excellent analysis.
    If your publications, your facts and stats, in addition to presentations at Planning Committee and CPS Committee by a multitude of professionals and the plight of the community continue to be IGNORED by the mayor, the majority of councillors and City Planners, this mega-project could be a socioeconomic crime for the Vanier community.

  2. Pingback: Trading Tim Hortons For Cummings Store: Revitalization of Vanier’s Traditional Main Street | urbanomicsblog

  3. Pingback: Un éléphant blanc à Vanier – La raison véritable du déménagement de l’Armée du Salut à Vanier – Philippe L. Denault

  4. Pingback: What Would William Booth Think About the Salvation Army’s Proposed New Booth Centre in Vanier? | urbanomicsblog

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