Families increasingly becoming face of Ottawa homeless, report finds
More than 1 in 5 shelter clients are under the age of 17, report finds
Emergency shelters in Ottawa saw a rise in the number of visitors last year, one fuelled by an increase in the number of families with children forced to rely on the services, according to a report made public Tuesday morning.
About 300 more people used shelters in 2015 compared to the previous year, but while the number of single men using shelters actually declined, family use more than made up the difference, according to the progress report of the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa.
"While family homelessness may receive less attention, shelter data reminds us of its extent," the report says.
6,825 people used shelters in 2015
The total number of people using an emergency shelter increased by 4.9 per cent in 2015, from 6,508 people in 2014 to 6,825 in 2015, the report says.
Family homelessness was the biggest driver for the increase, with the total number of families using shelters rising from 706 in 2014 to 782 in 2015, and the total number of family members using shelters rising from 2,278 in 2014 to 2,635 in 2015.
Those families included almost 1,500 dependents; that is, children 17 and under.
"Over one in five of Ottawa's shelter users were children aged 17 and under," said John Sylvestre, director of the Centre for Research on Educational and Community Services at the University of Ottawa, in a statement.
"While local programs have contributed to significantly reducing the likelihood that families return to homelessness once becoming housed, it is clear that the cost of housing is a barrier for more and more families."
Average shelter stay dropped
Single men still made up the largest cohort of people using emergency shelters, but their numbers actually declined last year, from 3,046 in 2014 to 2,972 in 2015.
There were some encouraging data in the report, according to its authors. The average length of stay at emergency shelters, for example, dropped from an average of 78 days to 73 days.
The report's authors credit the opening of new supportive housing in the fall, the application of available housing and supports and targeted interventions with helping reduce stays at shelters.
But the lack of affordable housing options in the city remains an issue, the authors contend.
In 2015 only 34 new affordable housing units opened, the fewest since 2005, while another 12 units with subsidies were made available through the Ministry of Health and Long-Term care, the report notes.
The authors note that several housing projects are under construction and new subsidies are expected in 2016.
However, they say the city can do a better job responding to the demand, as 10,099 Ottawa households are on the centralized waiting list for subsidized housing.