More people used city’s homeless shelters in 2008

The problem of homelessness in Ottawa is growing, according to a report released Monday.

The Alliance to End Homelessness released its fifth annual Report Card on Ending Homelessness in Ottawa for 2008.

The community-led organization found the number of people using the city’s emergency shelters increased to 7,045, a rise of seven per cent from 2007. The average stay also jumped to 51 days, five days longer than the year before.

“This is a disgrace for the city,” says Perry Rowe, chair for the Alliance to End Homelessness.

He says that with a lack of affordable housing in the city, shelters have had to move toward becoming “multi-service facilities.”

The increased demand has resulted in overflowing shelters, which by mid-2008 ran out of beds every night, forcing some people to sleep on the floor.  

In order to alleviate this problem, the report calls for more affordable housing.  Rowe says only 134 additional units of affordable housing were offered in 2008, far less than Ottawa’s target of 500 units a year.

The problem has also become greater for youth and families.  The number of youth using shelters jumped to 464, a 27 per cent increase from 2007.  Family shelters also saw an increase in demand, as 747 families stayed in family shelters, an increase of 15 per cent.  Of those families, 1,179 of them were children.

 “Families with children, children who then become stigmatized already because they go school and their address is the family shelter,” he says.  “And we wonder why our children run into problems.”

Long-term, he says there is also a need for supportive housing units, funding for transitional service to assists families, and others trying to reintegrate into the community.

To accomplish this, Rowe says there needs to be greater cooperation from all three levels of government and for homelessness to be higher on the government’s agenda.

“If we don’t create supportive and affordable housing it just becomes a treadmill, a rollercoaster, and so that’s what we call for today,” he says.