Ottawa 'treading water' on homelessness, report finds

The City of Ottawa barely made the grade for addressing homelessness in 2012, according to an annual report card, but it's not entirely the city's fault.

Annual report card says there's more affordable housing, but families spending more time in shelters

The City of Ottawa barely makes the grade when it comes to addressing homelessness, according to an annual report card, but it's not entirely the city's fault.

Cassandra Wright said her family struggles to pay bills and keep afloat. (CBC)

The Alliance to End Homelessness (ATEH), said the situation improved in some areas, such as affordable housing, but worsened in others, such as the amount of families who are using shelters.

"We're really treading water. We're really not addressing the problem," said Tim Aubry, a professor of community studies at the University of Ottawa who helped put together the report.

Ottawa has done good work, but the federal and provincial governments have not, he said.

"It's been left to [the city] to solve the problem but they don't have the tax base, they don't have the resources to solve it," he said.

"It requires the provincial government, the federal government, to get involved the way they used to be involved."

In the 1990s, Aubry said, housing availability and income support was better.

Ottawa gets F for affordability

The alliance evaluates the city on four criteria, giving grades ranging from A to F.

It said the city gets an A for increasing the number of new, affordable units, by 886.

Other positive notes, the report said, include that the number of homeless people in the city didn't change much in 2012, the number of single women in emergency shelters was reduced, and there were decreases in the length of time single men and women needed to stay in shelters.

But the alliance gave an F for affordability of housing, saying the city has the fourth-highest rents in the country.

The city got a C for the overall number of homeless people and family members staying in emergency shelters, as well as for the amount of time spent in emergency shelters.

More than 120 families live out of motels any given night

Tim Aubry, a professor at the University of Ottawa who helped put the report together, said the federal and provincial governments have to do more. (CBC)

Cassandra Wright, her husband and their four children were evicted from their home in January and found temporary housing after a two-month search.

Her husband works as a baker at Tim Hortons while she stays at home with the children, ages 6, 3, 2 and five months.

Wright said they may have somewhere to stay for the time being, but they’ll struggle to afford it.

"Right now we're trying not to rely on welfare, we want to get off it, but we can't afford it because of everything that we have to pay, from rent to hydro to bills, my kids," Wright said. "Right now I sleep on a mattress on the floor. My daughter doesn't even have a bed."

She said she hopes more can be done for families like hers.

"For starters, definitely put more money into it. Maybe put more beds in the shelters, maybe make it a little bit faster for getting into housing," she said. "I didn't even bother putting my name into the housing list because I was told it's seven to eight years long. I mean, what's the point?"