An online petition referring to three homeless shelters in Ottawa’ ByWard Market as a “cancer” in the area quickly went viral last week.

“The shelters, in their current configuration, must be diagnosed for what they are — a cancer which is now terminal for those residents and businesses in their vicinity,” wrote Patrick O’Shaughnessy, the business owner who started the petition on a website called Save the Market.

The petition (which he has now taken down) collected more than 2,500 signatures within days, and it meanwhile opened the floodgates on Reddit, where users shared stories about fraught encounters with homeless people in the Ottawa region. Others felt O’Shaughnessy’s language had crossed a line. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson reacted on Twitter, saying it was “disgraceful” and “completely unacceptable” to refer to shelters as a cancer.