I want to start this with one critical number - zero. That’s the number of chronically homeless families in Waterloo’s shelters right now. London, Ontario recently reached zero chronic veterans homelessness. Medicine Hat has reached zero for overall chronic homelessness. Ending homelessness is not a pipe dream. It’s happening in communities across the country, and it’s happening now. But it requires a change in approach.
Every city in this country that is seeing real reductions, has stepped back, looked at the big picture, and realized that prevention is essential to ending homelessness.
We have housed thousands of people through Housing First since the start of the 10 Year Plan. I commend this and past Councils on record investments in new capital dollars for affordable housing and a commitment to investing in evidence-based practices like Housing First. Despite all of this work, we have not seen real reductions in our overall homelessness numbers. It’s not for a lack of trying. With the funding agencies currently receive, they are moving mountains to work with some of the most vulnerable people who have been failed by our systems.
However, we lack long-term support once people are housed. This leads to people returning again and again to shelters who have already been housed. We’ve also only seen an increase in people in core housing need - those right on the cusp of not being able to “pay the rent and feed the kids”.
For a fraction of the cost, more operational funding for services aimed at prevention and long-term housing stabilization would make a significant impact on Ottawa’s housing and homelessness crisis.
I urge Councillors to consider an increase to operational funding for community agencies to do more prevention and housing stabilization work. It is far too often that community health centers, day programs, or outreach programs know that an individual or family is on the verge of losing their housing. But they have few tools to prevent it. Use this budget to provide those agencies with more tools for prevention and housing stability - the tools for ending homelessness.
Increased access to rental repayment for tenants with arrears, increased rent subsidies, increased staffing for supporting tenants in rooming houses or supportive housing. These solutions are much less expensive than watching people fall into homelessness over and over again because they don’t have the support they need to stay housed.
For $200,000, we could provide enough funding to support rooming house tenants across the city to stay in their homes. For $7.2 million, we could provide enough funding for staff for 1,200 supportive housing units. Instead many of the tenants in rooming houses or in need of supportive housing end up cycling in and out of shelters, where the monthly cost for one person is almost $2,000.
Shelters are increasingly providing supportive housing, and have the skillset to do it well. Imagine if emergency shelters had the funding to provide more permanent supportive housing, putting a stop to the revolving door of crisis they see. The move in this budget towards flexible block funding for shelters is an important tool to create opportunities for more permanent solutions and an outcomes-based approach.
We could re-house every single family currently staying in a motel for less than $3 million a year through rent subsidies. Contrast that with the current $14 million we spend on motels, without the stability of a permanent home.
All of these investments total $25 million. For $25 million, this budget could boost prevention and housing stabilization efforts to support almost 2,000 households. That’s roughly the number of people staying in an emergency shelter every night.
This isn’t a question of whether we should spend the money or not. The reality is we already are. But we’re often funding a crisis, rather than the long-term solutions to solve that crisis. Emergency shelters and community partners are doing incredible work with very few resources.
Increased funding for prevention and housing stabilization supports could change the landscape in Ottawa. We could prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. We could quickly rehouse people and provide the supports they need to stay housed. We really could be a city where homelessness is “rare, brief and non-recurring” - the standard for reaching “functional zero” homelessness.
This brings me back to the first number I said today - zero. That was zero families who are chronically homeless in Waterloo. It is possible to achieve functional zero in our community. We can invest our limited resources into prevention and housing stabilization and provide agencies with the tools they need to get us to zero. We can do this. I urge this Committee to strike a bold vision and believe that with investments in prevention and permanent solutions, we can end homelessness.