Ottawa receives $11.4M to spend on homeless shelters, non-profits
Money to be distributed beginning in May, Mayor Jim Watson says
The City of Ottawa is getting ready to spend more than $11.4 million in combined funds from the federal and provincial governments to address homelessness and curb the spread of COVID-19 among the city's most vulnerable residents.
In a teleconference Monday afternoon, Mayor Jim Watson said the city received $6.6 million from Ontario's Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (roughly half of the province's $13.3 million commitment for this year for social services relief) along with $4.8 million from the federal government's Reaching Home program.
The city plans to spend the bulk of the money — $8.4 million — on homeless shelters, isolation centres, hotel rooms to provide self-isolation, day programs and physical distancing support, Watson said.
The remaining $3 million will go to non-profit community organizations that work with homeless people or other at-risk groups.
He said the support from the two levels of government "is enabling us to conduct critical work necessary to support the residents of our community facing the greatest challenges."
4 homeless families, 2 individuals positive
There are currently four families who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa. All four families are staying at a University of Ottawa isolation site. Two individuals who have tested positive are in isolation at the Routhier Community Centre.
Joining Watson on the teleconference were community and protective services committee chair Jenna Sudds, the city's general manager of protective services Anthony Di Monte, Vera Etches, the chief medical officer of health, and Donna Gray, the general manager of community and social services.
The relatively low number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among people experiencing homelessness is a testament to the work of shelters to limit the spread of the virus, Gray said.
"They've done an outstanding job given the number of people that we currently have in our homeless population right now," she said.
There are currently more than 500 families experiencing homelessness and approximately 860 individuals in the community shelter system along with about 90 people living on the streets, according to a memo Gray sent to councillors.
More beds, respite centre added
A host of additional beds and shelters were also announced on Monday to help the homeless practise physical isolation as well as take a shower or use a washroom during the pandemic — which can be difficult with recreation centres closed and restaurants shuttered.
This week the city plans to open up the McNabb Recreation Centre for showers and toilet use.
The city is also looking at reopening day programming and other community spaces in the coming weeks to give individuals more restroom options.
The city has also installed five portable washrooms downtown, the memo to council says.
WATCH: Ottawa adds hotels to shelter system to make space
Currently Ottawa has acquired 70 hotel rooms across the city, said Watson, and is looking to reserve "many more." That includes up to 50 hotel rooms for single women and youth who need emergency shelter.
While the number of hotels that remain open diminishes, Gray said the city is looking at opening the Jim Durrell Recreation Centre next week to provide more space for men to practise social distancing.
Ottawa is also opening a new isolation centre for individuals who have tested positive next week or who are probable cases to supplement the Routhier Community Centre.
The new isolation centre will be located at Patro d'Ottawa in Lower Town.
Non-profit community groups can apply for emergency assistance funds starting Monday until end of day on April 27. The funds will be dispersed beginning in May, Watson said.