City's big request for federal homelessness funds denied

The City of Ottawa hoped to get a $6.5-million boost. Instead it will only get one-tenth of that figure.

Ottawa will receive one-tenth of what it had hoped for

A man asks for spare change at an Ottawa bus station. The city has learned it won't be receiving as much funding as it had hoped for to address homelessness problems. (Christian Milette/CBC)

The City of Ottawa has learned it will only get one-tenth of the annual $6.5-million boost it had hoped to receive under the federal government's updated homelessness strategy.

Last year, the federal Liberals unveiled the pillar of their new strategy, which is aimed at cutting chronic homelessness by half in the coming decade.

They promised cities $1.25 billion over the next nine years, along with fewer restrictions on how the money could be spent.

Ottawa is one of 61 communities that receives money from the federal government every year to deal with homelessness. 

Mayor Jim Watson wrote to the federal housing minister in July 2018, asking for an extra $6.5 million per year under the revamped program.

That would be over and above the $7 million it currently receives from a federal homelessness fund that's set to expire on March 31 and be replaced with the Liberals' new "Reaching Home" plan.

Watson acknowledged in his July letter that federal staff didn't lead him to expect any more financial assistance than the status quo.

Still, he asked for the extra money anyway, calling it "critical" for addressing some of the city's most pressing needs.

City given just a $608K increase

The city would have put $1.5 million toward installing support workers in some social housing apartments and rooming houses — workers who could help people with addictions, mental health and other issues. 

Another $1.5 million would have gone to the Youth Services Bureau, the Shepherds of Good Hope, and a site on Carling Avenue for supportive housing projects.

Instead, the federal government has allotted Ottawa an extra $608,000 for the current and next fiscal years, followed by $1.5 million from 2021 to 2024.

That brings Ottawa's total to $40.7 million over five years.

That's considerably less than Watson asked for, the city's community and social services manager told council in a memo.

"Adequate and sustained funding is urgently needed to address the growing pressures on our housing and homelessness systems," wrote Janice Burelle.

The city has taken some steps of its own toward reducing the number of people and families being housed in motels and shelters.

The mayor announced in his budget speech last week that the city would spend $15 million this year of its own funds to create new affordable housing units.

It also anticipates federal funding to temporarily house an influx of migrants from the United States.

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