Hamilton looks for ways to fight growing cost of putting homeless families in hotels

Hamilton will spend an extra $358,000 this year to try to get people out of hotels and free up valuable shelter space.

The city needs Ottawa to reimburse it about $60K it's spending to keep asylum seekers in hotels

The city could spend as much as $800,000 keeping people who are homeless in hotels this year. Now it's draining a reserve on a new program to try to curb its expenses. (Tucker Wilson/CBC)

The cost of keeping people who are homeless in Hamilton hotels is increasing each year and the city is trying a new program to try to curb that growth.

By the fiscal year end in March, the city will have spent as much as $800,000 to deal with the overflow from the city's packed shelters, said Vicki Woodcox, acting director of Hamilton's housing services division. 

But she hopes a new $358,000, one-year pilot program will get as many as 120 families out of hotels and into housing as fast as possible. If it works, it could be a way to stem the cost of keeping families in hotels that's increasing about 20 per cent year over year.

The city puts families in hotels when the shelter system is full, which increasingly, it has been, she said. So more people are staying in hotels, and longer. 

Last year, she said, the city spent $506,100 keeping people in hotels. That's up from $112,000 just three years earlier. 

Half the people in hotels are families from women's shelters, she said. About $60,000 of the cost is families of asylum seekers who have recently migrated from the U.S., so the city will approach Ottawa to repay it.

Otherwise, "we don't really know the cause of it," Woodcox said of the increased demand.

The city is draining a $358,000 housing capital reserve for the program. Those identified to be part of it will be assigned case workers, she said, and the city will pay part of the rent for a short period of time.

Good Shepherd Housing Services will use its "existing relationships with local landlords" to match 120 people and families with housing, said a staff report Monday.

That wasn't the only housing news at city council's healthy and safe communities committee Monday.

Nrinder Nann, Ward 3 councillor, pitched using $50,000 from a housing surplus to help tenants with steep rent increases.

When landlords hike rents beyond the guideline of 1.8 per cent a year, they have to apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board. If Nann's idea goes through, tenants will be able to use some of that $50,000 for legal costs.

City staff will report back with details, including how many people in Hamilton might use it.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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