The Youth Services Bureau is closing the downtown drop-in center this weekend due to a protest

The Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa is closing its downtown drop-in center this weekend for safety reasons for the vulnerable staff and clients it serves, as more convoys of trucks and demonstrators arrive in the capital.

The visitor center is located at the corner of Besserer Street and Waller Street in the ByWard Market, and near what police call the “red zone,” where most protests take place and many roads are closed.

“It’s very visible and we proudly display our pride and transgender flags on our building,” said Joanne Lowe, YSB’s CEO. “Our concern is that if we open the young people will come and so when they come and if it gets really chaotic and dangerous around the building, we’re not sure we can keep everyone safe under those circumstances.”

The drop-in center provides a safe haven for young people in Ottawa who are unstablely housed, live in poverty or live on the streets. Young people can access food, warmth and connect with peers facing similar challenges, as well as receive support from staff and counsellors.

“Our staff are doing their best, sometimes sitting in traffic for a very long time, trying to get to work,” Lowe says, adding that workers have been offered hotel rooms.

“The challenge with hotels, quite frankly, is that hotels are full of people who don’t really want to follow precautions, don’t want to wear masks. So our staff are probably not going to support us with our offer. and they’ll just try to get home.”

Lines of convoy trucks were seen parked just a few hundred yards from the shelter and Lowe says some of the youths saw protesters with Confederate flags and swastikas.

“It scares them and they have every right to be scared, it’s a very justified fear quite frankly and we’ve heard young people openly saying they’re scared,” says Lowe. “Because they know what it means and they know there are perspectives on their choices, their lives, and how they live their lives that many people in this profession don’t necessarily support.”

YSB also offers two emergency centres, which remain open. Clients who regularly use the drop-in center will be contacted and directed to these shelters over the weekend if necessary.

YSB has a 24/7 crisis line and chat services for children and youth 17 and under who are experiencing a crisis, as well as parents, guardians, caregivers, friends or service providers who are concerned about a youth in crisis either in line or by calling 613-260-2360 or 1-877-377-7775.

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