One of the goals of our ongoing work is to grow all types of housing across our community that can support people at every level of need.
Today with the release of more affordable housing projects I believe we will offer additional capacity in the community for youth, women and older adults - 3 of the underserved groups needing affordable and supportive housing.Read more
I believe in a community where everyone matters.
The city budget for 2017 passed today will strengthen our social infrastructure immediately and for years to come, not just for the well off and middle class but for everyone - including those among us who struggle daily.
Ottawa is a community where we care for one another the 2017 budget:
- Creates a new low-income transit pass, EquiPass, that will enable many Ottawa residents to access a more affordable transit option. The new pass will save those residents 50% off of the current adult monthly fare.
- Many people in our community rely on 94 key agencies across the city for support. I am proud to support them in doing their vital work throughout all of Ottawa’s neighbourhoods. An additional $610,000.00 in funding will go a long way in helping them continue to serve Ottawa
- In my role as Special Liaison on Housing and Homelessness, I am championing our continued support of the City’s annual $16 million commitment ending homelessness within the next 10 years. Ottawa will also receive funding from our federal and provincial partners, which includes:
- $2.8 million from the homelessness Partnering Strategy; $16 million for Social Housing Repairs; $19 million for the Investment in Affordable Housing Program; $12 million through the Social Housing Apartment Retrofit Program; $3 million for the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative and almost $4 million for a Survivors of Domestic Violence Pilot.
- New affordable homes being built in 2017 include Ottawa Community Housing’s Michele Heights in Bay Ward, an investment of $800,000.00
- Affordable housing is important, but so is housing affordability. Limiting the 2017 tax increase to 2% is a responsible and balanced approach that helps families continue to afford their homes.
Looked at collectively - the largest blocks of our budget go to assist those in our community who need help. Whether its with housing, access to transit, accessible and affordable recreation, even opportunities for children and older adults to grow and keep engaged in our community.
We care ... I care .. and budget 2017 continues to show that commitment even as we continue to do more and work harder each day for every single one of us in Ottawa.
As my wife Christine and I lay there at 3am, on the field of TD Place, with the wind blowing outside and the rain coming down lightly I thought to myself: "I am thankful for everything and everyone that I have".
I think that would be all of us.
This year, at her suggestion, Christine and I joined the Youth Service's Bureau 'Sleep Out For Youth' event.
The purpose of the event is to raise money and raise awareness.
That it does.
While I sat there by the courtesy fire we had (a luxury many homeless people do not get). I thought to myself of our housing first plan at the City just how important it is. If you do not have a roof over your head - everything else becomes secondary. Getting a job, an education or putting a life back together all require safety, a place to close your eyes and think. Sadly - many in our community lack that basic benefit. Meeting a group of young ladies my wife started a conversation. I asked one of the girls, likely 16 years old, if she was sleeping out? "No" she said "I've had my share of sleeping out. I was homeless." It was altogether a simple but stunning answer.
We feel we don't know the homeless so it's not an emotional issue for us.
Laying there in the cold, looking at all the kids who had come to support I thought of my two daughters, 16 and 22 and imagined how I could not imagine them here, on the street. Yet each day the ranks of the homeless youth grow.
Homelessness is tough at any age. As a child - homelessness changes your life forever, even if you break free.
Watch this video from YSB and consider offering the your support today.
Each year organizations, governments and community groups come together to 'celebrate' National Housing Day.
The day marked the declaration of homelessness in Canada as a national disaster.
This year on November 13th I gathered with representatives from faith communities across Ottawa at the the Multifaith Housing Initiative's marking of this important day. Multifaith's work creates affordable housing throughout Ottawa leveraging the collective power of many faith based and religious organizations.
So why would MHI consider their day a celebration? The answer is in the work they do collectively...
Too often today our view of religion is coloured by what we see on the television news, where 'religious groups' are frequently labelled as fighting each other. While that may be true in some places around the world for a variety of reasons it absolutely does not reflect our reality here in Ottawa.
The history of charity, kindness and helping those among us in need has been ingrained in almost every religion and belief structure since time began. Religious groups of all faith were the first to provide what we call today 'social services'.
Realizing the urgent problem that homelessness posed to Ottawa and the country, MHI brought together from all walks of life people of all faiths (even those of 'no faith') to collectively mount a challenge to address homelessness in our community.
Years laters - MHI is a success. Today they build, promote and protect affordable housing for many in our community. Currently they are working on a project aimed at serving those military veterans among us who are homeless. Veterans House will serve those who have served us so well and who now need our help.
Over the months to come, working with MHI I will be helping to accelerate the day that Veterans House opens its doors.
On November 22nd - one day before the official Housing Day, I co-hosted with the Alliance to End Homelessness a U.S. researcher, Mary-Beth Shinn for a discussion forum at City Hall. Mary-Beth's work in America in a large multi year study looked at many of the tools and systems we use (or can use) to address housing issues for people and drew some interesting - if predictable -findings.
Comparing several different models of supports and housing assistance the study concluded that the most overwhelming driver of ongoing homelessness (not necessarily the cause of the original loss of home) was the high cost of living. With stable, media to deep subsidies most people could make their way, grow and begin to prosper again. Food for thought for Ontario as we begin to look at a 'basic income'. Together with City staff I will be participating in the Ontario Government's feedback sessions on the basic income guarantee - and pushing the idea of an Ottawa pilot study.
Finally on November 22nd my team and I attended the annual Community Forum on Ending Homelessness. In addition to sharing on behalf of Mayor Watson and myself our personal commitment to ending homelessness in Ottawa - I also had a chance to meet with support agencies, housing teams and even recently homeless youth.
Mid day was also an opportunity to attend the planned announcement by Federal Minister Duclos and Evan Siddal of CMHC on the National Housing Strategy. After months of consultations from coast to coast to coast - the 'what we heard' document was before us. The next steps will be tougher. Now we must work with our Federal partners to move from listening to action.
So while National Housing Day is just that ... a day... it spread over a week and felt much longer. A good reality check I thought about homelessness.
A day can feel like a week without a home.
The more time I spend working and talking with people about our goal of ending homelessness in Ottawa there is one question I get more than any other.
It's a typically Ottawa question.
It's a great question.
"How can I help? Where would I start?"
This says a lot about who we are in Ottawa as a community. It says a lot about the people who ask.
The answer is: "You can help in any number of ways, anywhere!"
We are blessed to have so many good community partners working across the entire spectrum of help in our community that practically anything you want to contribute to doing is fair game.
Holiday meals aren't the only time our shelters need help. The Ottawa Mission, The Salvation Army & The Shepherds of Good Hope all can use ongoing volunteer help. Whether its every week or a few hours a month - you are helping.
So the answer is ... Just jump in. Anywhere, Anyway, Anytime. There is no wrong way to do the right thing; and thank you in advance for the lives you will change.
A great supportive housing partner in Ottawa their newest home is also an environmentally respecting passive building.
On behalf of Mayor Watson I attended the Big City Mayors meeting hosted in Toronto by Mayor Tory & Edmonton Mayor Iveson. The topic? Our urgent need for more affordable housing coast to coast to coast.
In discussions with Federal Minister of Families, Children & Social Development Duclos and the President of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation we collectively stressed the need to address the issue of homelessness now.
With Mayors & Leaders from Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal, Gatineau, London, Vancouver, Mississauga offering the Ottawa perspective to Minister Duclos & Ontario Minister Ballard.
This past week I had the honour of welcoming Joe Roberts to Ottawa.
Joe is an entrepreneur who was himself a homeless teen in Vancouver.
Joe's story is an inspiration but also a warning...
Youth Homelessness is on the rise.
Joe founded the Push for Change movement to help to start addressing with focus, money and effort the growing difficulty of homeless youth.
The Rolling Stones sang 'Gimme Shelter' in 1969.
In the past week I have been continuing to work through a long list of meetings and discussions with partners, agencies and organizations that help the homeless in our city and address in their way the issues of affordable housing and housing supports.
One of the areas in which our community gets supported is through organizations that run shelters for the homeless (note that many of these organizations do more than just sheltering though). There are several of these and they range from larger to smaller. The City of Ottawa runs two shelters of our own, each addressing the needs of homeless families. Others like the Mission only take in men while agencies like Cornerstone address the needs of women.
Our shelters do amazing work. You need only visit or volunteer at one to see humanity at its most beautiful. While it is true that many of the people there are the people who get avoided on the street, they share some of the most unique stories about their lives and how they came to end up in a shelter for the night. Our shelter workers and volunteers often also have some compelling stories about why they are there.
We are going to be working very hard with our shelter providers in Ottawa over the next several years. Having strong and supported shelters in our community is an integral part of the continuum of care when addressing homelessness; but we also have work to do together.
Ensuring that we have the right mix of energy focussed on sheltering, supportive housing, transitional housing and housing supports will help us speed up the process of cycle breaking for many people who become homeless.
Shelters are a need, but we need more than shelters.
I'd encourage you to learn more about the volunteer opportunities at our shelters in Ottawa. If your time will allow you, consider volunteering yourself or with a friend. You might be surprised at what and who you find at a shelter. Just as important you will talk to everyone you meet about your experiences.
That mix of experiences and insight may also lead you to share your story with others. Please do that.
The more residents we have committed to the idea that things must change - the closer we come to changing our community.
Like many other cities all across North America the City of Ottawa has taken a 'Housing First' approach to address a key component of our homeless population.
Housing first really grew out of the idea that many of the homeless in any community face physical and/or mental health challenges that often include addictions, substance misuse or issues that have prevented them from being stably housed.
In the 'old style' of model these people would not be offered housing until they were 'clean' or sober or had addressed their issues nearly completely. The difficulty with that thinking is that when you are homeless, when you don't know where you are going to sleep on any given night or where to ask people who want to help you to meet you - everything else becomes secondary, including often addressing your challenging issues.
Housing is 'held out of reach' until you get your life under control like some kind of prize you have to earn.
Most of us, while we certainly have to pay for our housing, have never had to live up to a test like that. Most of us have never been told that we wouldn't be allowed to rent our apartment or have a roof over our head until we stopped smoking or lost weight or changed our appearance.
Now granted these are examples of two extremes - but the point is clear: Everyone deserves a safe place to call home.
If you need to address other issues in your life, it's far easier to do when you don't have to worry about where you are going to sleep. It also makes it much easier and more cost effective to help individuals who are housed properly.
So whichever angle you approach it from, a compassionate one or a dispassionate economic one - its easier and cheaper to help people if they are housed and, it's a more humane way of helping someone in need.
Housing First today though is not just for people with addictions issues or the like.
Our evolved version of this approach supports the reality that when someone becomes homeless - the faster we can re-house them and help stabilize their life the better they will be and the better our community will be.
That's positive progress in Ottawa, a great start to the Housing First approach, and literally a new lease on living for 250 of our neighbours.