Community Counselling & Resource Centre

City records spike in homeless families as it assesses midpoint of 10-year plan

http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/city-records-spike-in-homeless-families-as-it-assesses-midpoint-of-10-year-plan

March 17th, 2018

A huge spike in the number of chronically homeless families last year has forced the city to rent more motel rooms, giving parents and children emergency shelter.

The city is preparing to launch a review of its 10-year housing and homelessness plan at the midpoint of the program, which started in 2014. A report to council’s community and protective services committee sets the stage for the review, with updated statistics on the number of homeless people in Ottawa.

One of the glaring statistics is the number of families who spent significant time without a permanent home in 2017.

The number of chronically homeless families went from 87 in 2016 to 236 in 2017. The average length of stay in shelters for those families also increased, from 251 days to 262 days.

Someone who is chronically homeless has been homeless for six months or more in the past year.

The two organizations contracted by the city for family shelters, the YMCA and the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, were overwhelmed and the city was forced to find more temporary housing in hotels and motels, the report says.

Part of the problem is there’s not enough affordable housing stock to accommodate large families.

The Alliance to End Homelessness said its board of directors is taking time to read the report in preparation for a deputation at the community and protective services committee meeting on Thursday.

Housing advocates in April 2016 started raising warning flags about the rising number of homeless families in Ottawa. In August that year, Mayor Jim Watson appointed Coun. Mark Taylor as council’s special liaison on housing and homelessness with an eye to reducing the city’s reliance on emergency shelters and advancing the programs in the 10-year housing and homelessness plan.

Taylor wasn’t available to comment on Friday. He’s scheduled to release his own report on Thursday on how to speed up progress on housing initiatives.

The number of chronically homeless men decreased by about 11 per cent in 2017, compared to 2016. There were also slightly fewer “episodic” homeless men — those who have experienced three or more episodes of homelessness in a year — and they had shorter stays in shelters.

The number of chronically homeless women was up 6.6 per cent last year compared to 2016, but they were spending fewer nights in a shelter. There were fewer episodic homeless women — five women last year compared to 13 in 2016 — but they were staying on average 10 more days in shelters.

An average of 1,180 people stayed in an emergency shelter each night in Ottawa last year, according to the city.  The number of unique people requiring emergency shelter in 2017 (7,530 individuals) jumped five per cent from 2016.

The city uses a “housing-first” approach to relocating homeless people from shelters to permanent housing, but there are 10,597 households on a waiting list for subsidized housing. The applications for housing can’t keep up with the number of affordable homes available. The city says the number of applications in 2017 was three-times higher than the number of households housed through the waiting list.

There are 24,204 affordable unit options in Ottawa — including rent-geared-to-income units, housing allowances and rent supplements — but there are 55,000 households living in poverty, according to the city. Under the housing and homelessness plan, the city has so far added 364 affordable homes and created 386 new subsidies, in addition to creating a housing benefit for survivors of domestic violence.

At the same time, the local social assistance program, which is funded by the province and administered by the city, took on additional clients in 2017. The city says there was a 3.6 per cent increase in Ontario Works cases and a 2.65 per cent increase in Ontario Disability Support Program cases.