Presented by our Executive Director Kaite Burkholder Harris:
Dear Chair and members of the Committee,
I’m speaking today on behalf of the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa - an organization representing over 75 agencies in Ottawa in the housing and homelessness sector.
This new opportunity for supportive housing at 1245 Kilborn Avenue is an exciting and smart investment. Local supportive housing providers report seeing over 90% success in people staying housed long-term through supportive housing. It is a key step on the road to ending homelessness.
Affordable non-profit housing includes a large spectrum of housing types and the number of terms can be confusing. Supportive housing is one type of housing that fits along this spectrum. It refers to housing that is subsidized to be affordable where practical support services are provided on-site. These can include counselling support, connection to other services, life-skills training or more. There are supportive housing providers in Ottawa who have 9-5 support, others have 24/7 staffing, and some have staff a few times a week.
People may not realize that group homes are a form of supportive housing. Long-Term Care is supportive housing.There is supportive housing in every ward in Ottawa. It is not isolated to the downtown, and it’s the kind of housing that gives people the dignity and stability they need to thrive.
Supportive housing is not a shelter. It is permanent housing. People are not forced to move on after a certain amount of time. They are housed. They are home. The alternative is that the clock is ticking on someone needing to move on and find other housing. When that pressure is put on someone to find another place after a certain amount of time, people’s housing outcomes become worse.
Since 2015, this City has adopted a policy of Housing First - a philosophy and service practice where a person experiencing homelessness is provided with housing without any conditions. Housing first means that a person does not jump through hoops to access the most basic of necessities - a safe place to call home. A person is not mandated to resolve a personal crisis or deal with a mental health condition in order to obtain a home. Housing First is the recognition that without safe, stable housing, very few of us can thrive. In other words, if you’re drowning, it doesn’t help if your rescuer insists you swim before you return to shore.
In Ottawa, we have a waiting list of 369 people in need of supportive housing. This 90 bed home reduces that list by 25% - a significant step in the right direction. Further, supportive housing is cost-effective. It costs just $53 / day to house someone in a supportive unit. In contrast, a hospital bed is $1000/ day. An emergency hotel bed is $3000/ a month, and shelter costs are over $30 million a year. Supportive housing is both more cost effective and more compassionate than emergency responses.
While I realize there has been pushback on this acquisition, I urge City Council to continue to support this purchase. We desperately need supportive housing in our community. We need all kinds of affordable non-profit housing to end homelessness, and this particular type is crucial to giving people the dignity they deserve. Supportive housing is already decentralized. It is in every ward in our community, likely in most neighbourhoods. Yet, there is pushback, often because people may not have a strong understanding of what it is. Increasing supportive housing units is a core component of Ottawa’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. That Plan is a policy direction approved by Council, and it’s critical that we continue to move forward with it.
We cannot continue to have a referendum on who gets to live in a neighbourhood every time a new building is developed. This building is in my ward, no one got to decide if I lived there or not, so why should it be different for anyone else?
Ending and reducing homelessness is absolutely possible. We have Canadian and international examples of it. The most notable example is Finland. They focused on building non-profit housing at scale, much of it supportive for those who needed it. The Kilborn building is part of the story of how our City will reduce and end homelessness. Let’s get on with it together.