The owner of a daycare in Ottawa says she is being forced to shut her doors due to homelessness, crime, and drug use in the surrounding area, at least until she finds a new location to relocate to.
Pam Benoit, the director of Sandy Hill Child Care since 1997, appeared on CBC’s Ottawa Morning show on Aug. 31. The daycare is currently housed in the basement of the old St. Paul’s Eastern Church, following a fire at their former location in December 2022.
The current location is just seven blocks from where the daycare previously operated, but Ms. Benoit said that as the weather became warmer, the neighbourhood became “alarming.” She said the church location is “smack dab in the middle” of several community services, a homeless mission, a social services organization called Centre 454, and several “safe injection” sites in the area with open drug use.
“We’ve had to be very careful,” said Ms. Benoit. “The drug use is so concentrated in the area that it’s not even a daily event now, it’s an hourly event.” She said there is “constantly” something going on outside when the staff and children are inside the church, which is “an amazing space.”
“But the minute you open the door, you never know what’s going to happen.” She said overdoses are common, and she watched two just the day before.
“When they’re brought back, the violence and the anger that is associated with the Narcan or the naloxone is scary. This one gentleman in particular was extremely violent, extremely angry, kicking fences, shaking the parking boxes, punching cars, you know, yelling and screaming vulgarities,” said Ms. Benoit, who did not respond to an inquiry by press time.
She said the staff remain “very diligent, very protective of the children,” but “the elevated numbers of people with mental health issues and the drug use, you never know how somebody is going to react.”
She said the daycare hired a full-time security guard that escorts people away from the centre, and travels with the group when they use local parks. “We have a locked, … small gated area on the side of the church.”
She said an encounter with a street person prompted the extra security precautions. “In March, we had an incident where a gentleman was looking for food. And he was able to push his way through the door as we were coming in with the children. So then we decided that we weren’t taking any chances, and we hired a security guard starting the next day.”
Stéphanie Plante, councillor for the Rideai-Vanier region, also appeared on the show and said, “The toxic drug supply has taken over.”
“It just sort of shows that these games are like Whack a Mole. They’re not working under sort of fentanyl, or the toxic drug supply, like we need to stop managing this problem, and we need to start working towards solutions,” said Ms. Plante.
She said she had heard from other business owners who are reporting customers “feel scared downtown now” and are not patronizing businesses in the downtown core. The city councillor said the problem seems to be spreading.
“It just seems like the issue is not just in and around injection sites, it’s in our shelters, it’s at our food banks, it’s in our meal services, respite centers.”