2016 Progress Report on Ending Homelessness in Ottawa
Ottawa’s Ten-Year Plan is a long-term commitment to reducing shelter stays to less than 30 days. In making this commitment, the Plan envisions a 40% savings in funding to emergency shelters.
Are we on track?
Into the fourth year of a 10-year plan, we’ve seen progress in some areas, but several numbers are clearly trending in the wrong direction.
But we can get back on track.
We need to build on current and new investments to achieve success. Three key messages emerge.
1. We need a strong focus on prevention.
Too many poor households are falling into long periods of homelessness. Ottawa’s Centralized Waiting List (for subsidized housing) includes over 10,000 households (Table 8). In 2016, 1,769 households from this list were moved into permanent, affordable housing. Less than 1/3 of these households were those whose primary concern was affordability. Others who were housed were individuals experiencing crisis – whether due to homelessness, health concerns exacerbated by housing, or family violence. With fewer resources, those who are “simply poor” (e.g., low-income individuals and families) are offered fewer and fewer opportunities. And, we know that across our city – downtown and in our suburban and rural communities – nearly 22,000 renter households are spending in excess of 50% of their income on rent and utilities. They remain at serious risk of losing their home.
How many families, who were once supported by the community’s Housing Loss Prevention Network, are no longer able to access support before they lose their housing? How many young people are unable to access the supports they need, left “couch surfing” during a critical period of adolescent development? How many Indigenous, Inuit and Métis members of our community are left without critical supports?
Prevention – reducing the risk of needing emergency shelter – needs to be a key principle guiding a strong, robust strategy to reduce shelter dependency. Implementing several initiatives intended to support housing affordability and to prevent housing loss could make the difference:
- The Government of Canada has launched consultations towards development of a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy.
- The Province of Ontario’s Income Security Reform Working Group is expected to release recommendations in summer 2017 – a roadmap for social assistance reform, income security and supports for housing, health and employment.
- The Province has also committed to introduce a Basic Income Pilot in spring 2017, with expressed goals of lifting more residents out of poverty in order to achieve long-term improvements in health and housing.
- Provincial Parliamentary Secretary Ted McMeekin is to report on rural poverty in Ontario in summer, 2017, making policy recommendations to inform provincial poverty reduction efforts.
Recognizing the need for renewed attention to prevention, an evaluation of the impact of removing funding in 2015 for Ottawa’s Housing Loss Prevention Network is also needed.
2. There aren’t enough appropriate housing options. Shelters are meeting a crucial need.
We all believe a shelter is not a permanent home. However, in the absence of sufficient appropriate, affordable, safe and supportive housing options within the community, shelters have necessarily evolved to offer a range of innovative, cost-effective solutions to an interim crisis. During this period, shelters are working to support individuals, preparing them for successful housing interventions.
Many shelter-based services could be situated within appropriate housing – if it was to be available – where they may deliver better outcomes. For example, residents of The Oaks supportive housing residence – once long-term shelter clients – are living healthier and longer lives with the support of the residential Managed Alcohol Program, delivered by Shepherds of Good Hope and Ottawa Inner City Health Inc. Additional shelter residents need this program, but without additional housing units, are instead enrolled in a shelter-based version – an example of one program that could offer better outcomes if delivered within a supportive housing model.
The demand for affordable housing remains high, and the supply is low – an imbalance that needs to be addressed within our Ten-Year Plan. A number of opportunities to expand availability of housing options need to be fully embraced and acted upon, including:
As they move towards a National Housing Strategy, the Government of Canada’s 2017 Budget introduced $11.2 billion in spending over 11 years in a variety of initiatives designed to build, renew and repair Canada’s stock of affordable housing and help ensure that Canadians have affordable housing that meets their needs. While the Government recognized many Canadians see housing as a right, the Government’s own intentions need further clarification when a funding and policy framework are implemented.
Additional Provincial investments in supportive housing – some scheduled to begin in 2019 – are needed now.
The City of Ottawa removed $4 million of its own discretionary spending – previously allocated to development of new affordable housing – in 2015. Now is the time to reinstate this envelope.
In December 2016, the Province of Ontario passed legislation enabling the City of Ottawa to implement inclusionary zoning guidelines. Along with updated Guidelines for the implementation of Section 37 benefits (wherein community benefits, including affordable housing, can be required as part of larger projects), and through the Building Better Revitalized Neighbourhoods initiative, the City has several opportunities to work in partnership with developers and affordable housing providers to expand the availability of affordable housing in mixed-income projects throughout the city.
3. Attention is needed to ensure the sustainability of tenancies.
Guided by our Ten-Year Plan, and by a focus on Housing First, our community’s housing system is adapting – prioritizing housing solutions for those who are experiencing chronic homelessness. The creation of new Housing Allowances is a welcome investment, but it is important that we assess the long-term stability of those who are housed. Are the Housing Allowances sufficient to afford quality housing options? Are the supports appropriate and available? Are individuals who are housed able to remain connected to community, protected from isolation or loneliness? Are social assistance benefits sufficient to incentivize housing over a return to shelter, where important needs are addressed?
Next year, we enter the fifth year of our Ten-Year Plan. As in 2015, the 2016 year showed some progress towards our shared goals. At the same time, other challenges – including increasing family homelessness, aging singles within our shelters, and a younger homeless youth community – appear to be deepening. Is our Plan responsive to emerging challenges? New investments from the federal and provincial governments are scheduled to take effect. New opportunities are in front of the City. To borrow a common expression, now is the time to ensure our community’s plan is on track.