Cornerstone’s emergency shelter moves to a new location

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By on February 1, 2021

Just before Christmas, 34 homeless and vulnerable women boarded an OC Transpo bus at the Cornerstone Emergency Shelter on O’Connor Street for a short ride into an uncertain but hope-filled future.

When they reached their destination in downtown Ottawa, some of them were literally moved to tears to discover new private or semi-private rooms with washrooms and support services with built-in physical distancing.

Their new home is the Physical Distancing Centre for Women, which is a Cornerstone Housing for Women partnership with the City of Ottawa and Shepherds of Good Hope.

The centre, operated by Cornerstone, provides safe and secure emergency housing for more than 100 women.  The aging property on O’Connor Street was in need of repair and lacked capacity for critical social distancing to protect against COVID-19.

Anyone who has gone through a single household move knows it is an unsettling and stressful experience. Imagine, then, a “household” of 34 moving. 

The shelter on O’Connor housed 61 women until the pandemic made the numbers in the old building unsustainable, forcing many to be relocated temporarily to hotels.

Within two weeks of the move, the original 34 welcomed another 40 residents from the temporary hotel lodgings and the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter. Staff expected to reach capacity early in 2021. 

Martine Dore, interim executive director of Cornerstone, says the impact on both staff and residents has been huge. While challenged and tired, the staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty, excited about being able to offer better accommodation.

The challenges included plumbing leaks and flooding in a building that had been vacant for a year before being leased by the City of Ottawa for the shelter. 

Dore has high praise for the City for funding and facilitating the complex move. The City designated a team to work with Cornerstone every step of the way, including modifying the new building and adding COVID-19 signage. 

The result, she says, is a new and big opportunity for Cornerstone. 

The Physical Distancing Centre is seen as the best possible solution to a growing problem through this COVID-19 winter. The City continues to work with Cornerstone towards a longer-term solution.

The growing problem is a crisis that was recognized a year ago when the City declared a housing and homelessness emergency. It led to a Housing Blitz by Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa that found homes for 30 households.

While far short of its goal of housing 100, the campaign was seen as a good first step. “Even with all the resources, expertise and energy to house people, finding affordable rentals was like finding a needle in a haystack,” said the Alliance statement. 

For Cornerstone, the impact means some residents will be staying longer than the hoped-for three or four months before moving into more independent housing. Some have challenges that make independent living difficult or even impossible.

Cornerstone, which has benefitted from a community that has recognized need and stepped up to help will continue to appeal for support.  Dore is worried about the coming year. “We will have to double-down on fundraising.”

The Cornerstone website offers several options for donations to support its work. Go to,


  • David Humphreys

    David Humphreys is a member of the diocesan Homelessness and Affordable Housing Working Group. A retired journalist and former Globe and Mail bureau chief, he is a regular contributor to Crosstalk.

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