The City of Ottawa takes step to house the unhomed

The newly developed Integrated Transition to Housing Strategy was reviewed in depth for the first time at today’s Community Services Committee meeting. At its core, the city would like to move ahead with closing the physical distancing centres — shelters that were opened on city property for individuals in need of short-term accommodation during the pandemic.

The city report on their usage paints a grim picture. Currently, 2,576 people are using the facilities, but a whopping 1,938 people began using the centres within the last year. Of them, 607 people are on the city’s priority housing list.

City staff indicated a need for an additional 224 beds for men and 69 more for women. At no point in the last year did the city have enough beds to fill the need at the physical distancing centres.

The proposed strategy proposed will work in three stages. The first stage will involve creating a housing allowance for unhomed people to move into homes. This part of the program is only a preliminary prototype. On top of this, the city plans on building overflow facilities for the unhomed during times when shelter usage spikes, like during the winter.

The main goal of phase one is to get the unhomed out of physical distancing centres. Phase two involves building 198 supportive housing units that the city will lease or purchase to facilitate a new transitional housing program referred to as Bridge Housing.

This part of the strategy is expected to be completed within five years. By the end of stage three, the city would ideally have a supportive housing hub with integrated services, housing stability programs for the vulnerable and staged housing options. The upfront cost of the 2023 strategy is an estimated $8.7 million for the remainder of the year. Future costs will be addressed in annual budgets.

Councillor Rawlson King brought forward a motion to identify the exact locations for semi-permanent shelter locations. Councillor Marty Carr brought forward a motion to require any organization that receives city funding to shelter the unhomed to adhere to the housing first principles expressed in the strategy.

Delegate Peter Tilley, Chief Executive Officer of The Ottawa Mission, voiced his support for the city’s plan. However, he noted that people with mental health or addiction issues need support and may not be ready to be housed if their problems are not being managed properly, a potential liability for landlords.

The Integrated Transition to Housing Strategy was carried with the King and Carr amendments.

In April of this year, the Ford government initially snubbed the City of Ottawa but has since released $24 million in provincial funding to deal with homelessness. The Community Services Committee appear to be putting the money to good use and are moving toward eliminating homelessness in the city within the next ten years.

The proposed strategy still requires Council’s approval and will be liable to budget cuts after the end of this fiscal year.

Photo: OLM file photo