Poverty report makes ‘clear case’ for change

By Kaïla Rosenhek

Anti-poverty advocates in Centretown say the city’s first report card on homelessness will give them the hard numbers they need to lobby for change.

The Alliance to End Homelessness, a community-led program in Ottawa, recently published the first report card entitled, “Experiencing Homelessness.”

Its purpose is to educate the public on the nature and extent of homelessness in our city.

Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes, also a member of the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness, says the report card “makes a clear case” and outlines where funding should be allocated to pay for housing and programs to help homeless people.

“The report card is very helpful because it gives us a snapshot of the situation now and lets us know what the needs are,” Holmes says. “We’ll use it to lobby the other levels of government regularly for more funding.”

Tim Aubry, who led the homelessness research as director of the Centre for Research on Community Services, says he hopes the report card will serve as a public education tool, tracking homelessness and assessing how well the city is addressing it.

“We’re hoping that by educating and informing citizens and people working social services and government, that we can work together to find some solutions to the problem,” Aubry says.

“By communicating a message and presenting some data, we can make a compelling argument toward addressing the two main issues of housing and income support,” he says.

The report card, which comes from Aubry’s research, states that in 2004, more than 8,600 people stayed in Ottawa shelters.

The research was conducted through the University of Ottawa.

Aubry says this number is likely to be an underestimate, since not all homeless people use shelters and the report card reflects the use of emergency shelters only.

Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation, a non-profit housing corporation, buys property and builds affordable housing across Ottawa.

Ray Sullivan, co-ordinator at CCOC, says the report verifies what anti-poverty advocates already know.

“The report confirms a lot of things that we already knew,” Sullivan says. “There are a lot of invisible homeless people and we already knew that there was this huge problem of housing affordability.”

Sullivan says public knowledge of these issues will apply pressure on the federal and provincial government to address them.

He says the report card is a means towards achieving greater public awareness.

“The report is a lobbying tool to create awareness and that includes public awareness of the social consequences of temporary economic hardship,” Sullivan says. “Which can be a source of major distress for homeless people.”

“Changes are not going to happen overnight,” says Tim Wood, a previously homeless man now living in a non-profit housing corporation. “But they should be able to come up with something, to chip away at this one step at a time.”

Wood says the report card identifies the problems for government officials, so they can work with existing organizations to tackle them.

“This report takes all the facts and figures and puts them into one place where people can use them as a basis for an argument to gain the funding that the city needs, so we can put an end to homelessness,” Wood says.