Ottawa homelessness programs need greater scrutiny, report finds
Analysis asks whether billions spent on homeless programs in Canada work
A new University of Ottawa report says that millions of dollars being funnelled into local homelessness initiatives are not being properly tracked to see if the money's been well spent.
The study from the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy has also found that the City of Ottawa's housing programs have been less successful than others in the community.
"We can do better," said Kevin Page, the institute's president and co-chair of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.
"The impact is so important. It changes the future of people."
In his former role as Canada's parliamentary budget officer, Page was charged with seeking value for money for federally-funded programs.
Page's team at the university has done something similar by analysing the money spent battling homelessness in Canada, using the city of Ottawa as an example.
In the last federal budget, the government committed to approximately $4 billion over the next 11 years to housing and homelessness programs.
Cities and provinces also contribute money to get people into proper homes.
"When we spend these billions of dollars annually, on issues like homelessness [and] anti-poverty reduction, what is the impact? Are we following the best practices?" Page said.
"That really was the motivation [for the report]."
Lack of follow-up
The report — which comes out later Monday morning — was co-authored by fourth-year economics student Alannah McBride and Randall Bartlett, the institute's chief economist.
It found there was a lack of tracking or follow-up to assess the outcomes of homelessness initiatives.
Results could be good, bad, or ugly. And the money seems to flow just the same."- A quote from Monday's report
The report found that best practices across the country are not being shared, and that at the local level "the trail between money and performance can get disconnected."
"Results [of homelessness initiatives] could be good, bad, or ugly. And the money seems to flow just the same," the study found.
The research comes ahead of the federal government's expected announcement of a national housing strategy this week.
In order for any strategy to be successful, the federal government "must ensure that funding is tied to the desired outcomes, taking into account demographic, geographic and other confounding factors," the report notes.
Nearly $83M spent in Ottawa
In the capital in 2016-17, almost $83 million was spent on homelessness initiatives.
This money came from all levels of government, including affordable housing programs, the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative and the Local Poverty Reduction Fund.
There are currently several "housing-first" programs run by various agencies in Ottawa, including those run by the city, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.
Those programs provide homes as well as other supports for tenants' health and well-being.
But as the institute pointed out, the varying outcomes of the three programs are "striking." The CMHA program achieved a 93 per cent success rate, the Sandy Hill program 81 per cent and the City of Ottawa program only 66 per cent.
Success is measured by how many people stay off the streets after accessing housing.
The institute isn't the first group to criticise the City of Ottawa's program and call for closer scrutiny.
The program was put under the microscope last month when an Ottawa landlord complained to CBC that a tenant had trashed his apartment.
Since then, there have been calls for the city to conduct a "fidelity assessment" to ensure the housing-first program is following its stated values.
At the time, the city confirmed to CBC News it had not conducted an "official fidelity assessment" on the program.
Nor is there a requirement to do so from either the federal or provincial governments that provide the money to get people into homes, the city said.