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.