'Housing first' model pitched as alternative to Vanier homeless shelter

Opponents of the Salvation Army's controversial plan to open a large shelter on Montreal Road in Vanier are holding a symposium on an alternative model Tuesday.

Symposium today on strategy advocates say is improvement on long-term shelter stays

Protesters carry signs across the street from the Salvation Army Thrift Store and the proposed site for the organization's shelter facility on Montreal Road on July 18, 2017. Opponents of the site are holding a symposium on an alternative model today. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Opponents of the Salvation Army's controversial plan to open a large shelter on Montreal Road in Vanier are holding a symposium on an alternative model Tuesday.

The housing-first model "is the opposite of treatment first," said Tim Aubry, a University of Ottawa psychology professor who has studied homelessness and is one of the speakers signed up to talk at the symposium.

"It's getting people into housing first, quickly, and attaching support to it. It's getting people into regular housing, typically private market rental housing," Aubry told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Monday.

"It comes with support that's quite intensive, that involves either case management or a model called community treatment," he said. "People are followed very closely."

University of Ottawa professor Tim Aubry said there's no question that emergency shelter beds are needed, but that there is a question about how many the city needs. (CBC)

The model can also include housing co-ordinators who work with landlords on any issues that arise, Aubry said.

The Salvation Army's plan for its new shelter at 333 Montreal Rd. includes 350 beds, 140 of which would be reserved for emergency use.

Vanier resident and symposium organizer Randall Bartlett, a chief economist at the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa, said the housing-first model is a better way forward than emergency shelters.

"Emergency shelters are one of the least effective ways to help chronically and episodically homeless in our community, and it's also the most expensive way of helping those people," Bartlett told Ottawa Morning.

"Housing first is significantly more effective — and significantly cheaper as well."

Social services already high in Vanier

And Vanier already boasts a lot of social services for people in need, Bartlett said, adding that the shelter proposal "would be like creating the downtown eastside in Vancouver."

Randall Bartlett is a chief economist at the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa. (CBC)

"In the case of Vanier specifically, it is a low-income neighbourhood. And there was work done by city staff in 2008 that found concentrating social services within low-income neighbourhoods actually has very detrimental effects," he said.

Bartlett rejected the argument that he simply doesn't want the shelter in his neighbourhood.

"It's not about moving it somewhere else. It's about taking advantage of the opportunity to actually reduce the number of emergency shelters that we have and permanently house people," he said.

"As I said, I don't think it's a not-in-my-backyard [argument]. We already have more social services than any other neighbourhood in the city per square kilometre. The thing is, it [shouldn't be] in anyone's backyard. That's really what the issue is, that this is a failed model. It's the most expensive, and it's a failed model, and we should be moving on from this."

The proposed Salvation Army shelter at 333 Montreal Road in Vanier has been controversial with several residents and even the area's councillor speaking against the facility (Submitted image, Judy Trinh/CBC)

Emergency shelters still needed, homeless group says

Emergency shelters still play an important role in a community, according to Tim Richter, president and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.

But the number of beds needed, he said, depends on the homeless population in a city.

"You have to think of emergency shelters as a piece of your homeless system. In a perfect homeless system or in a well-designed homeless system, shelters are there to support people in a crisis. [They are] designed for short stays in a crisis situation, as opposed to a long-term stay situation."

Richter agreed it was more cost effective and efficient to move people out of shelters and into housing, especially as data shows 60 per cent of shelter space across Canada is used for long-term stays.

Shelters do play an important role in a homeless system to meet that crisis need.- Tim Richter

"A shelter is not a home. It's not designed to be a home and shouldn't be considered a solution to homelessness. Shelters do play an important role in a homeless system to meet that crisis need, to meet the need of somebody that suddenly loses their housing. And they play an important role in helping move people out of the homeless system quickly," he said.

"But they should not be used … for long-term accommodation."

Other people scheduled to talk at Tuesday's symposium include Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who has spoken out against the Salvation Army's proposal.

The symposium also features Jaime Rogers, manager of the homeless and housing development department with the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society, and David Gibson, executive director at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

With files from Ottawa Morning and Kimberley Molina