This week, I attended two events launching research reports exploring the challenges faced by our vulnerable populations. On Tuesday night, I visited St. Matthias in Kitchissippi where a group of Carleton students partnered with the parish to explore the social needs gaps in the church’s catchment area (including much of our ward). Then, on Thursday, I attended a briefing held by the Alliance to End Homelessness (ATEH) to explore the results of its recent street survey of Ottawa’s homeless.
Housing has been a major focus for City Council. In my participation at Planning Committee in recent weeks, I’ve been questioning staff about the removal of dollars for capital projects in the recently-passed budget. The shift was spurred by provincially-mandated operating cost increases related to inflation. For the next several years, after some one-time funding and front-end loading of federal/provincial money this year, we’ll be spending $4 million less per year on building affordable housing than we have been as part of our 10-year homelessness plan. It’s a step backwards, in my view.
In this vein, I was very keen to hear both ATEH and St. Matthias’ research findings.
St. Matthias study – housing and social inclusion
The St. Matthias study was illuminating. We have multiple churches and agencies in this ward working on issues of social equality. The students interviewed 17 of them. Their study states:
“While there exists some community housing (OCH) in the area, an abundance of rooming houses and several shelters, only six of the 17 agencies we sampled provided housing or help with accessing housing, while fifteen of them stated that low-income, geared to income and affordable housing was a major issue in this area. St. Luke’s Table stated that part of their mission is to provide clients with a safe place away from unsafe rooming houses, and Parkdale United indicated a need for more emergency shelters in the area, as clients have been known to pitch tents in their parking lot. When asked what services were needed in the community, agencies responded with statements including ‘supportive, affordable housing’, ‘decent rooming houses for seniors’, and ‘while there is some community housing, there is a need for more affordable housing for those not on social assistance, just families struggling to get by.’”
The St. Matthias study also explored issues of food security and transportation as the biggest social needs gaps in our neighbourhood. Particularly striking was the strong theme that gentrification in our neighborhoods is leading to a loss of social inclusion. The study states:
“Even more so than with our previous findings, the subtheme of gentrification runs through all responses. The changing demographics of the community, with luxury condominiums being built where blocks of single-family homes once existed has created a dearth of affordable housing for even middle-income earners. Low-income earners are relegated to rooming houses or put on a years-long waitlist for community housing.”
A strong, resilient community is built on diversity, and I share the concerns expressed by our local civil society that we are losing that strength. I was proud recently to ensure that the majority of community benefits from the new Richcraft development at Parkdale/Scott will go into innovative models of building affordable housing. Maintaining diverse, sustainable neighbourhoods is a lens through which we need to look at all our planning decisions.
The ATEH Ottawa study presented Thursday was more focused. Teams of volunteers interviewed, using a standardized methodology over a several-day time frame, over 500 people who are homeless. City efforts in the short-term will result in reducing that number using emergency shelters by around 250, for which it should be proud. But the glimpse into the lives of those who aren’t stably housed was eye-opening, and should be cause to re-double our efforts.
One of the hardest numbers to hear was the level of “tri-morbidity”. Of those the volunteers interviewed, 54% - 249 people – face a chronic health condition and mental illness and substance abuse issues. They need to be housed.
The ATEH is working as part of a national effort to house 20,000 people currently homeless by 2018. I believe that the City is accepting its responsibility to be part of this effort, and it will be held accountable for that. But it’s critical to note that municipalities are likely the poorest-placed tier of government to achieve long-term solutions. Our tool – the property tax system – will probably never be adequate to address all the need. What we desperately need is a long-term housing strategy in Canada that has real dollars attached.
More stakeholders at the table
Mike Bulthuis, ATEH executive director, spoke several times while presenting the research to the need for more people at the table. Councillors Mark Taylor and Diane Deans emphasized the need in their presentations for a national housing strategy. Social agencies and faith-based communities’ role is critical to recognize. St. Matthias is part of the Anglican diocese that does so much work in our community, like Parkdale United Church. The ATEH research was supported by the Downtown Rideau Business Improvement Area, working as part of a national coalition of BIAs addressing social needs in Canada’s downtowns. This is an encouraging emerging partnership that needs to grow bigger every day.
The private sector, civil society and governments need to do more to ensure housing and social equality. As we set the term-of-Council priorities, it’s important that everyone continue voicing their support for addressing housing. And, we there's a critical need for a well-funded national housing strategy. For more, see the good work that's being done by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities at http://www.fcm.ca/home/issues/housing.htm. My commitment is to continue to support efforts at Council to address housing, and I hope Kitchissippi residents will lend their voice to mine, as well.
Posted April 26, 2015
Two studies with housing at their heart reinforce the need for action by all levels of government