Rawlson King, Councillor for Rideau-Rockcliffe, was pleased to second the successful motion to make Ottawa the first city in Canada to declare a housing and homelessness emergency.
Ottawa prides itself on being a caring and compassionate city, where people want to live, work and play. Safe, adequate and affordable homes are fundamental to this goal. Unfortunately, I agree with my colleague, Councillor McKenney, our Special Liaison for Housing and Homelessness, that our City is moving in the wrong direction, further away from this vision.
The situation concerning homelessness has moved beyond an urgent crisis, so I also believe we should call it what it is: a municipal emergency that is putting people’s lives at risk. The City’s own review of its housing plan showed that instead of decreasing, shelter use increased by 6.5 percent. Shelters in Ottawa are full and often operating at overcapacity.
If the original goal of the City’s Ten-Year Housing and Homelessness Plan was to reduce shelter use by 40 percent, then by now, we should only have 5,150 people using our shelter system annually, working our way to 3,862 people by 2023. Instead, the total annual number now is almost 8,000 residents. Last night, more than 500 people slept in shelters who are chronically homeless, meaning they have been sleeping in shelters for more than 18 months. Those who were sleeping on our streets were doing so in minus 20-degree conditions.
Ending this chronic homelessness is a realistic goal and could be achieved in five years, but only if we obtain the immediate support of senior levels of government to fill the massive funding shortfall required to end chronic homelessness and to build and upgrade our community housing stock to address the growing wait list for affordable housing, which increased by nearly 15 percent in the last year alone.
The wait list for community housing has grown to 12,000 households and there are currently 600 families cramped in motel rooms throughout this city who will not likely get housing for at least a year.
These statistics are indicative of a growing, intolerable, situation in our City, which, quite frankly, has been precipitated by federal and provincial funding levels which are not sufficient to provide adequate affordable housing to our residents, or to eliminate chronic homelessness in our City.
Colleagues, as we know, our entire funding requirements for housing and homelessness cannot come from the City’s property tax base, though we have done what we can allocating $15 million in the last two budgets from the City treasury towards the effort.
Councillor McKenney’s motion acknowledges the fact that the City alone cannot manage this situation without proper support, and calls upon our senior levels of government to immediately provide emergency funding so that we can build new homes and provide residents more allowance supports.
This motion, if successful, will express the collective will of our City to seek serious funding solutions to address and solve the serious housing problems that we have in Ottawa.
Over 7,000 residents have expressed their desire for more funding solutions by signing a petition. This motion, if passed, can act in a sense as our Council’s petition, providing both the Mayor and Councillor McKenney with a strong advocacy tool, that calls upon our federal partner, especially during their current budget consultations, to take the corrective policy and funding actions required to ensure that we can follow through with our goals to preserve and increase the affordable housing supply, increase access to housing affordability, prevent the occurrence of homelessness and eliminate by 100 percent chronic homelessness by 2024, with a special emphasis on Indigenous homelessness, and ensure people are supported to achieve housing stability and long-term housing retention.
Due to the immediate need of the 1,000 people tonight, who will be in a shelter, and the 100 people tonight who be sleeping on our streets, I urge everyone around this Council table to support this motion.