Update on homelessness and shelter diversions

 In Community, Letters

The following article was authored by Allan Martel, president of the Cardinal Glen Community Association. It will be printed in the November-December edition of the Manor Park Chronicle.

As those of you following this project will remember, a Rapid Response Table (RRT) emerged from Housing Lab deliberations among members to include the City and the social agencies focused on housing services.  The RRT membership involved community organizations that could intervene at various stages of housing distress and if acting together form an integrated system of progressive engagements that would avert the need for a shelter admission.

The principle of progressive engagement for eviction prevention or shelter diversion as a superior option to shelter admission is based on limited data for 2022 showing that from a total of around 232 exits from shelter, 94 families returned to market rental properties.  This suggests that, at a minimum, these families could have been assisted without recourse to shelter, thus saving the unwanted impacts of a shelter stay and considerable cost to the City.

What have we learned so far from an albeit limited caseload?

A system of information that would allow the system to be actively managed does not exist. As a result, cases are handled on a rule-based administrative system that is slow and cumbersome, limiting both the case managers discretion and the families’ options. The current system also results in longer than needed shelter stays.

There are gaps in the continuum of progressive engagements in at least two areas:

  • There is an absence of direct assistance for families struggling to establish a tenancy; and,
  • There is no intensive intervention structured to house/rehouse families at imminent risk of requiring sheltering.

While RRT member organizations were not used to working as an integrated whole they are eager to do so and the potential for an integrated system of progressive engagement exists across community and City organizations.  There are community services that can act as early warnings of housing distress and engage in lighter touch interventions to resolve emerging problems.

The Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) staff are just starting to work together to avert a shelter admission. This had been an early hope for the Table but only cases that could involve financial tools of both organizations have been presented. In this case it appears that instruments were applied sequentially causing a significant delay in the family accessing housing.

The table is discovering that a number of policies currently in place create disincentives for action being taken in advance of a shelter admission. The most important is that families cannot remain on the Social Housing Registry wait list for Rent Geared to Income (RGI) if they receive subsidies for rent. Priority access to RGI housing is given to families in shelter creating a disincentive for a family to return to market rent housing.

Based on the Rapid Response Table’s observations there is greater attention to policy that connects the actions of upstream interventions as a coherent approach of progressive engagements.  These range from light touch tenancy support to housing loss prevention, through to more intensive interventions to divert families from shelter through rapid rehousing. While progress is slow, the direction is right, and the learning based on cases from two Wards is nearing readiness for scaling to include a larger section of Ottawa.

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