Hear our Executive Director Kaite Burkholder Harris share long-term solutions to Ottawa's housing crisis at the Community Services Committee.
Tuesday, Nov 28th - Community Services Committee - Budget 2024
Good Morning Chair and Members of the Committee,
Over the course of the past year, as the City faces the full impact of a housing crisis out of control, I want to start by pointing to actions that are working. In June, this Council approved an Integrated Transition to Housing Plan that City staff built with community partners. The result in the short term is an enhanced rent subsidy with greater flexibility, enabling people who have been stuck in homelessness to rapidly move out of the PDC’s. By allocating resources towards flexible subsidies like this, we enable people to secure stable housing.
The increase in funding for food security in this budget is desperately needed and I commend Council for stepping up, particularly when no other levels of government are, for the hunger we see in our community. We know that food banks are an entry point to the housing system, as people using them are often right on the cusp of losing their housing, choosing between rent and food.
In September of this year, Council approved a plan to purchase 1245 Kilborn for supportive housing- an exciting location with so much potential for a vibrant mixed income, inclusive community. The creation of the Emergency Shelter Task Force - while a reaction to crisis - also demonstrates a willingness to move quickly and effectively.
These are wins, and in a sector which sees few, it’s important to recognize these, as we continue to move forward with urgency.
Today, I want to highlight the need for a renewed focus on long-term, sustainable housing solutions, in the midst of the firehose of crisis that we find ourselves in. This budget presents opportunities to not only invest, but to ensure that our investments are being used in the best way possible.
A lot of our short term choices are far more expensive to the City, then long-term housing and support for the people that need it. Money is being spent on bunk beds, extra short-term shelter spaces, and sprung structures. We know that the shelter system costs over $30 million / every year. The overflow hotel system is over $16 million dollars. Staffing and capital for the PDC’s is well over $12 million.
Add to this, an estimated $25 million/ year spent in Ottawa policing costs for people experiencing homelessness. These interactions result in a ticket that will never be paid, a charge that prevents people from making progress in the system, or jail time - the other form of emergency shelter we have. Collectively, that’s a price tag of almost $90 million dollars and we’ve not ended a single person’s homelessness.
I assure you, we can do much, much better than this with our money.
Contrast this with $5.6 - $7.9 million - the cost of permanently housing the 471 households currently experiencing chronic homelessness with generous rent subsidies. For this same group, it would be about $4 million to provide significant wrap around supports. So for $12 million, we are housing and supporting our entire chronic homeless population.
This budget’s commitment of $28.8 million dollars spread over 95 social service agencies pales in comparison to what we spend on maintaining homelessness. Let’s spend at least as much on ending homelessness and supporting peoples’ housing stability as we do on crisis management.
But part of spending our money better, is also about doing a fundamental rethink about how this system works - or doesn’t work. The pressure on shelter inflow will not slow anytime soon. We need a better approach.
Prevention work through organizations that see people precariously housed, stabilizing people in their current housing, smarter discharge planning from provincial systems - there are a lot of opportunities upstream to prevent homelessness in the first place. As well, rapid re-housing is a critical part of ensuring that people do not get stuck in the system and experience worse and worse outcomes.
But this requires a systems approach. And unlike cities seeing reductions in homelessness, we don’t yet have the core mechanisms in place to truly drive a systems-based approach at ending homelessness. This means effective governance, data-driven decision-making, and system-wide coordination.
In the coming months, the Alliance will be bringing you more information on each of these three pieces, and we are glad to be working closely with City staff on developing these. But next year at budget time, I don’t want to be here just asking for more money. I want to be asking for funding that will have the maximum impact on ending homelessness for people in our community.
It is possible. We’ve seen communities do it. Let’s make the changes to get there together. Thank you.