By the numbers: Homelessness
Ottawa’s Ten-Year Housing and Homelessness Plan (2014-2023) includes a number of commitments and targets to achieve by 2024. By focusing on an increase in affordable housing options and on ensuring people get the support they need, the Plan envisions fewer emergency shelter stays overall – and stays of 30 days or less (an end to chronic homelessness) – by 2024. To ensure progress, the Alliance measures annual change in several areas related to emergency shelters, housing affordability and the number of new affordable housing options created each year. Of course, shelter data is only one indication of homelessness; other individuals in our community are among the ‘hidden homeless,’ staying with friends and family, or in unsheltered environments. All are without a home of their own.
For the second consecutive year, 2016 saw a rise in the number of individuals using an emergency shelter: from 6,815 individuals in 2015 to 7,170 in 2016, an increase of 355 individuals, or 5.2% (Table 1).
The number of “bed nights” – representing each time a shelter bed is used by an individual – increased from 500,233 to 525,972, an increase of 5.1%.
While more men are accessing shelter, their stays are becoming shorter.
149 more single men accessed shelter in 2016 (3,113 individuals) compared to 2015 (2,964 individuals). Yet, the total number of bed nights within this group fell by 1.3%, with a cumulative decline of 4.2% since 2014.
Is this significant? Yes. The average length of stay for single men in Ottawa’s shelters declined from 65 nights in 2014 to 61 nights in 2016 (Table 2) – representing some success in finding housing solutions, with services and supports, for some of the shelters’ longest-term single male residents, and diverting others from becoming chronically homeless.
Without alternatives, a growing number of older women are residing in shelters for longer periods of time.
As was true for men, more single women accessed shelter in 2016.
967 single women slept in an Ottawa shelter in 2016, 51 more than 2015 – an increase of 5.6% (Table 1). Bed nights are also increasing and the average length of stay – though holding steady – is not declining as it is among men. In particular, a growing number of older women are staying for longer periods in shelter due to a lack of alternative options to meet their health and housing needs.
From 2015 to 2016, shelters saw a 20.1% increase in the number of women over 50 and a 31.2% increase among those over 60. For women over 60, their average length of stay increased from 76 days in 2014, to 82 days in 2015, to 86 days in 2016.
It is clear that more needs to be done to address the housing precarity of our aging population, and to address the needs of older women, specifically.
Individuals in families now account for over half of all bed nights used within Ottawa’s shelters.
In 2015, data showed an increase in families accessing shelter. This trend continues. A total of 879 families accessed emergency shelter in 2016, a 12.5% increase from 2015 (781 families), and a 24.5% increase from 2014 (706 families). Ottawa’s family shelters are full.
As a result in 2016, an average of 347 individuals per night, equating to 91 family and couple households, were placed in off-site motels. The cost of providing safe shelter for all of these households in motels was nearly $4.5 million over the year (Note: Updated information from the City clarifies this number from earlier reported data). These motels provide an emergency response, but funds could be better invested in housing solutions to address the long-term needs of families.
Despite the increase in the number of families experiencing homelessness, a family’s average length of stay rose only slightly (from 92 days in 2015 to 93 days in 2016). Organizations supporting homeless families transitioning to housing report numerous successes: many of those who were housed were among those prioritized for social housing on the Centralized Waiting List. Others accessed units through the private market with the assistance of 45 new rent supplements and 13 new Housing Allowances. These investments – less than the cost of motels – are helping families to become stably and permanently re-housed.
Left: Construction of Multifaith Housing Initiative’s The Haven, opening 2017 (credit: MHI). Right: New Horizons for Seniors Tenant Group (credit: Ottawa Community Housing)
Youth are staying longer in shelter.
The number of youth staying within Ottawa’s youth shelters (Tables 1 and 2) declined significantly (from 387 youth in 2015 to 287 in 2016) while the use of shelter beds actually increased by 8.4% — as the average length of stay increased from 32 to 47 nights.
It is important to note that the proportion of young people aged 16-17 within youth shelters is increasing; without safe, alternative housing options for these “younger youth,” shelters are offering enhanced supports and retaining youth for longer periods of time until appropriate housing becomes available, including the possibility of family reconnection.
Recognizing this trend, it’s important to ask: With fewer youth staying longer, how many older, transitional-aged youth (18-25) are unable to access youth-oriented emergency shelter space, and are left needing space within our adult-oriented shelters?