2015 Progress Report on Ending Homelessness in Ottawa

Introduction

Reflecting on 2015, one sees momentum. Senior levels of government are strengthening their engagement on housing and homelessness. Community-level innovations are directing attention to housing in new ways. We are reminded that housing is a solution rather than a challenge – a determinant of social, economic and environmental objectives.

In this evolving context then, with new opportunities, it is important to hold before us a picture of homelessness in Ottawa, to focus our attention on the needs before us, and to most effectively direct much needed investments and interventions. In this light, we are pleased to present the 2015 Progress Report on Ending Homelessness in Ottawa (reflecting data from January to December, 2015).

Progress Made

On average, the length of stay in shelter is shorter

New homeIn terms of achieving our goals, we do see progress. For the first time since 2006, the average length of stay (among all clients) in Ottawa’s emergency shelters was reduced by 6.4% (from an average of 78 days in 2014 to 73 days in 2015). With the adoption of Ottawa’s housing and homelessness plan in 2013, and a commitment to ending chronic homelessness within ten years, implementation of a number of targeted initiatives began in 2015 to transition individuals with long histories in emergency shelters into permanent housing. While many may have still been homeless for the first half of the year, the opening of new supportive housing in the Fall, and the application of available housing and supports to this population, appears to be reducing the overall length of stay. Targeted interventions are showing success.

Related to this, we see a citywide 3.4% overall reduction in the use of shelter beds among singles (the total number of nights each available shelter bed is used) – driven in particular by fewer single adults, staying for fewer days on average. 

Challenges Ahead

More individuals are using shelters

While the length of stays are being reduced, we also see a 4.9% increase in the overall number of homeless individuals accessing emergency shelter beds. In other words, individuals are there for fewer days, but there are more of them. In 2015, 317 more individuals (a total of 6825, compared to 6508 in 2014) accessed an emergency shelter at some point in the year.  

More families are homeless

This increase is nearly completely attributable to a 10.8% increase in the number of families accessing shelter (782 families in 2015, compared to 706 in 2014). Within these families, 1479 individuals were children 17 and under – representing over 1 in 5 shelter clients in Ottawa (1479, out of 6825 overall). While family homelessness may receive less attention, shelter data reminds us of its extent. In fact, 38.6% of all shelter clients in 2015 were members of a homeless family – representing a larger and even more hidden problem of family homelessness, housing instability and poverty.

An aging demographic

While the total number of adult single individuals within Ottawa’s shelters declined, we see an increase in the number of older adults (aged 50+), reflecting an aging demographic within Ottawa’s homeless population. In fact, we see a 5.1% increase in the number of older adult men (994 in 2015, compared to 946 in 2014), and a 5.8% increase in the number of older adult women (273 in 2015, compared to 258 in 2014).

The lowest number of new affordable units since 2005

When people become homeless, they need to be returned quickly to housing – and linked to the important services that contribute to stability. In Ottawa, there is a gap in housing that is affordable and available to low-income people, including those currently experiencing homelessness. Very limited progress was made in 2015, with only 34 new affordable housing units opened (the least since 2005), and 12 other subsidies made available through the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Moving ahead, recognizing that several housing projects are under construction, and new rent subsidies are expected in 2016, we must ensure that the 2015 data stands as an exception.

Looking Ahead

DSC_0004As a community, we can end homelessness. Just as targeted resources and investments can end chronic homelessness, we need to ensure that appropriate interventions and investments support all groups experiencing homelessness. Investments in one area cannot result in reduced support elsewhere. How might we ensure appropriate support to our Indigenous communities, to families, to youth, to veterans, to victims of violence, to arriving refugees and immigrants, to others? Among those at-risk, how might we ensure sufficient attention to services oriented to preventing the loss of housing?

Progress depends on us all. Neither the City of Ottawa, nor any single person, organization or sector can end homelessness alone. However, together we can build on promising steps.

  • As 2015 ended, we saw increased attention by the Government of Canada to affordable, rental housing – with a long-sought commitment to a national housing strategy. Within the mandates of numerous federal departments and agencies, there is a recognition that housing is a determinant of positive results. Now is the time for action.
  • Upon the completion of work by the Expert Advisory Panel on Homelessness, the Province of Ontario not only confirmed its goal to eliminate chronic homelessness, but also articulated its intention to focus on three other groups among those who are homeless, including youth, Aboriginals and individuals exiting provincially-funded institutions and service systems.

With a solutions-driven, community-wide approach, the Alliance and its members continue to share their insight and experience in moving forward. We are convening partners in the development of a plan to prevent and end youth homelessness – known as A Way Home Ottawa. We are supporting the innovative approaches for new affordable housing being tested through Broadening the Base. We are committed to dialogue with new partners, and to research-based advocacy and solutions to ending homelessness. Together, we will work towards our vision of an inclusive community where everyone has an affordable, appropriate home.

You can download a PDF of the report in French or English here.