Homeless shelters in Ottawa’s ByWard Market area have been labelled a “cancer” by a group of local businesses, whose online petition against them has sharply divided the community.

The “Save Our Market” petition was launched last week by local business owner Patrick O’Shaughnessy, who says three homeless shelters in the area have cost local businesses “tens of millions annually” in direct and indirect costs. “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,” O’Shaughnessy writes on the petition website.

A new respite centre has opened at the Davenport Triangle, and will be converted into a permanent homeless shelter later this year.

The location is where Dupont Street meets Davenport Road, close to the Casa Loma campus of George Brown College, has up space for up to 100 people. When converted to a shelter, 348 Davenport will have beds for up to 90 people.

The shelter will be a small step in filling an urgent need for beds in Toronto. Current estimates say 1000-1500 additional beds are needed to fill the demand for shelter spaces in the city.

Joe Cressy, a city councillor in the area, points out that this location is going to be part of a new model for shelters in the city, one with daytime supportive services.

It’s been almost a decade since the Liberal government of Shawn Graham introduced New Brunswick’s poverty reduction plan titled “Overcoming Poverty Together” in Nov. 2009.

But when it comes to rural poverty, not much has changed, according to a former Canada research chair in rural social justice.

Susan Machum, the dean of social sciences at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said the view on the ground is similar to the way it was before the strategy was introduced.