OTTAWA -- Survivors of sexual violence say the abrupt announcement that the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre (ORCC) will temporarily close feels like a “punch in the stomach.”

“I felt physically sick,” says one survivor who wants to remain anonymous. 

“I could reach out at any time and know that there’s going to be somebody on the other end of the line, on the crisis line, that would understand... and now I feel like that’s lost,” the survivor says. “And I know there are other services but I’ve built up a relationship with the ORCC and it’s a lifeline, it helps keep you grounded I think and losing that, I feel grief, just profound grief.”

The centre, which offers a 24-hour crisis line, counselling and workshops, along with public education and advocacy, first opened its doors in 1974.

A memo posted by the centre’s board of directors says different challenges have “severely impacted the ORCC’s ability to consistently and reliably serve survivors.”

According to the memo, in its effort to pivot to a virtual model during the COVID-19 pandemic, the board writes “we have learned that our outdated IT infrastructure requires a significant overhaul before we can responsibly and ethically integrate secure video platforms and cloud-based record keeping systems into new modes of program delivery.”

It goes on to say that the building that houses the centre requires “extensive retrofits” before in-person service can resume while adhering to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. 

Survivors say the centre is a critical resource and they’re worried that with long wait lists for similar services, many needing support will fall through the cracks. 

The memo from the board says it will take the time to assess its programs and services and develop and implement new strategies that ensure services are relevant to Black, Indigenous and people of colour along with the LGBTQ community.

The ORCC memo says it will be working with other organizations to ensure no one is left behind but advocates say there isn’t a clear plan forward that’s been communicated. 

About 200 people have signed an online call to action from former staff members at the centre, along with concerned community members, demanding transparency, timelines and alternative support options from the ORCC board. 

“I’m sure that there are justifications and there are reasons but if you’ve hurt someone you still owe them accountability and I know that a lot of people are hurt,” the survivor says. 

CTV News Ottawa has reached out to the ORCC board of directors for comment.