Fearing the impact that the winter could have on a worsening homelessness crisis Ottawa, city council has directed staff to explore ways to provide temporary shelter space, including in tent-like structures on city land.

“We are currently dealing with a critical situation in our shelter system due to an unprecedent demand of beds and a shortage of shelter beds, said Mayor Mark Sutcliffe during the Nov. 22 City Council meeting.

“Because of the measures, with the cold coming, the system is going to be overwhelmed.” 

Council has also asked staff to partner with newcomer service agencies to find alternatives to shelter newcomers to Canada, many of whom are vulnerable.

Somerset Coun. Ariel Troster noted that “44 per cent of all single shelter clients are newcomers, which is a rise from 16 per cent in April 2023.” 

Troster added that about 74 per cent of people at shelters are newcomers. “People who are fleeing war and oppression or misogyny or homophobia should not be ending up in the shelter system,” she said.

“We really believe there’s an opportunity to work with newcomer supporting agencies, including Matthew House, to help expand the model that they already have that’s working and to divert these folks from shelter and we certainly need federal support to do that.”

The temporary solutions of the motions include:

Acquire resources needed to enhance the system capacity including bunk beds, and temporary shelters.

Direct staff to partner and work with newcomers serving agencies and network to identify appropriate supports and alternate placement options for newcomers to Canada.

Enable staff to use the existing facilities as warm spaces through the winter as supplement to those used in extreme cold.

According to the city’s emergency accommodation dashboard, Ottawa has been averaging about 3,000 people who have stayed at least one night in a facility each month in 2023. The City first declared housing and homelessness an emergency in 2020.

Rent prices in the city have been on a steady rise. The cost for one-bedroom apartment in Ottawa in August 2023, according to listings on rentals.ca, is on average $2,058, up from $1,820 in August 2022 and $1,628 in August 2020.

Barrhaven East Coun. Wilson Lo asked city staff about safety and stability issues in the temporary structures and the meeting heard that the city is working with engineers and other experts to ensure safety.

Orléans West-Innes Coun. Laura Dudas also reminded council that they were not focused on permanent solutions.

“We’re talking about temporary measures. We’re talking about this winter and we’re talking about making sure that nobody is sleeping unhoused on our streets in -30.

“So while I very much appreciate the conversation and we sure certainly should be asking questions about what types of beds or where capacity levels are and where people are sleeping and whether we should spread people out at this point in time this task force and these motions are specifically focused on making sure that everyone has shelter when they need it the most.”