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Sean LeBlanc is an aid worker for Ottawa Inner City Health. [Photo @ Sarah Newman]

In 2014 Ottawa’s ten-year housing and homelessness plan kicked into action but according to a recent report there is still plenty of work to be done. The city’s plan, A Home For Everyone: Our Ten year Plan, was passed by city council in 2013, fulfilling a campaign promise made by Mayor Jim Watson. While the plan focused on affordable housing and shelters, it didn’t address the issue of drug addiction issues in the community.

For the past two years, Ottawa has seen a rise in the homeless population, rather than the decrease that was expected.

An annual report issued by the Alliance to end homelessness shows that although the plan in is place, there still seems to be an increase in the homeless population of Ottawa.

Sean Leblanc is a worker at Ottawa Inner City Health who works with, homeless people with drug addiction issues, a group that is often overlooked, according to Leblanc.

“I definitely feel like I slipped through the cracks of the system. Most programs require complete abstinence for drug rehabilitation, rather than offering a safe environment to use, while being monitored.”

City councilor Mark Taylor is cognizant of the fact that the homelessness plan is not perfect and needs some tweaks and fixes. He admits that there is a lack of consideration for the segment of the homeless society with drug addiction.

“It doesn’t dig into a lot of the causational factors of homelessness or a lot of the concurrent factors that homeless people are often living with … I think there is more work that we need to do there.”

Programs like the Salvation Army and The Ottawa Mission both offer rehabilitation programs for the homeless that are drug users, but they rely on abstinence.

The Concorde Motel and the Salvation Army thrift shop, on Montreal Rd., are set to be the site of a controversial new Salvation Army “mega-shelter”. [Photo @ Sarah Newman]

Catherine Haskel works at an emergency care hospice, and says it is often more realistic to help people learn to live with addictions in a healthy manner, while slowly helping them cut back.

“We try and focus on quality of life for the person rather than pushing them towards abstinence. Using in safe, controlled situations is preferred rather than having them using alone. These safe injection sites are essential for the safety of the homeless community.”

In the face of the latest opiate crisis, fentanyl, programs such as safe injection sites and emergency shelters, such as hospices, provide shelter, and safe conditions for those in need.

Before the first legal safe injection site, there were many pop-up sites across Ottawa including one at Raphael Brunet park.

Safe Injection Site at 179 Clarence. [Photo @ Sarah Newman]

The following map shows the locations of safe injection sites in Canada.

The site of what used to be a pop-up safe injection site. [Photo @ Sarah Newman]

The fentanyl crisis has sparked many organizations and city officials to initiate change, including mandatory training for many workers on how to use a naloxone kit.

Naloxone is a form of antidote, used on those who are overdosing on fentanyl or carfentanil as well as other opioids. The widespread usage of naloxone started after a 2016 report to the Ottawa board of health recommended an expansion of the antidotes distribution, among other things.

Taylor, a member of the team that crafted the ten-year homeless plan, says we have gained one major thing that from the opioid crisis: awareness.

“Its had the effect of making it much more of a household conversation, so there’s a public appetite to help.”

Although the city’s plan needs to be reworked, Taylor says it has still been effective, in part due to the attention it is bringing to the Ottawa homeless community.

“The greatest success that the ten-year plan has had is that homelessness has become a much more common conversation among people who are not a part of the homeless affected community than it ever was before.”

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