Social issues magnified in Ottawa’s core BIAs during Covid-19

The pandemic has magnified social issues that BIAs have seen grow steadily over the years. It has now come to a point where action urgently needs to be taken.

There is a growing social crisis in Ottawa with the Downtown Byward area at the core. This area is where urgent attention is needed; however, issues of mental health and addiction are growing in neighbouring BIAs and communities.

While there is a dedicated Unsheltered Task Force formed by the city, there needs to be a plan to address the social issues of mental health and addictions that are proliferating and witnessed in our communities – including, and especially, in those who are “sheltered”.

BIAs have implemented programs to address the impact of these social issues including: public washrooms, public realm clean-up (feces, needles, etc.), dedicated staff to walk the main street to connect with homeless/unsheltered, and form connections with local shelters, contacting 3-1-1 or then OPS in emergency matters. Businesses and BIA staff members have deep empathy for this vulnerable population, but they are not trained mental health crises professionals. And these solutions don’t ‘fix’ the issue.

We would like to see resources allocated to more directly address these growing issues.

Our observations are that those who are sheltered leave during the daytime due to lack of programming, or mental health and social services available. During this time, mental health or drug addiction relapse will occur in our main streets (and elsewhere, most likely) – and it results in self or public harm. OPS will receive emergency calls of mental health or drug-induced episodes in our BIAs on a recurring basis.

OCOBIA wants to support a community safety and well-being program equipped with empathetic mental health and social service professionals. We want to see permanent housing and social services support that provide a means to recovery, not daily relapse. Vulnerable communities need dedicated support by trained mental health and social service professionals who are able to respond to crises with empathy and provide effective long-term solutions, including housing.


Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas is an advocate and influencer on issues and policies affecting the economic development and well-being of Ottawa BIAs – and the businesses they represent.


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