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Number of people sleeping on Ottawa streets up about 67 per cent over COVID-19 pandemic, new report says

Ottawa typically had 90 people sleeping on the streets, that number has since jumped to 150, a report to the community and protective services says.
File photo.

The number of people foregoing shelters to instead sleep on Ottawa’s streets has increased over the COVID-19 pandemic period. 

According to a report that will be presented to the community and protective services committee on Thursday, whereas Ottawa typically had 90 people sleeping on the streets, that number has since jumped to 150. That's about a 67 per cent increase. 

“This movement is attributed in large part to fears of contracting COVID-19 while in a shelter, as well as the availability of CERB funds and the onset of warmer weather months,” the report says. 

In response, the City says it and its community partners have increased their street outreach efforts. 

There are currently 12 community agencies providing outreach services in Ottawa, including the Salvation Army, Ottawa Inner City Health, day programs, community health and resource centre and others. 

Not all outreach services operating receive funding through the City, however. At the moment, the City allocates over $661,000 in annual funding to two agencies and over $500,000 in additional funds for outreach as part of the COVID-19 response. 

Recent statistics from the Salvation Army from April to June show:

  • 282 unique individuals served living on the street or precariously couch surfing (that’s a 68 per cent increase over the same period in 2019)
  • 180 people from above transported to a shelter (three per cent decrease over the same period in 2019)
  • 602 unique emergency shelter clients engaged on the street (a 20 per cent increase over the same period in 2019)
  • 318 times people were transported/supported to return to a shelter (a seven per cent increase over the same period in 2019)
  • 91 people transported to physical distancing centres, health services
  • 281 times people were diverted from an emergency healthcare or police service and transported to a shelter-based service (a 39 per cent decrease over the same period in 2019)

“These statistics are reflective of the increased service (two teams/vans were operating in 2020 versus on team/van in 2019), the increase in the street living population but also the hesitancy of clients to access shelter services,” the report says.

In response to the increase numbers of number people sleeping on the streets and in encampments, the City brought together a multi-departmental Unsheltered Task Force that included city departments and homeless service providers to address and respond to the increasing needs of unsheltered people. 

Part of that response was coming up with a plan in September called the Action Plan. It includes:

  • Extended and enhances outreach services to the end of the year
  • Providing increased funding to day programs to extend their hours
  • Exploring increased access to indoor and outdoor space for respite in the downtown core for homeless individuals
  • Opening more physical distancing centres for me and women to create safer space for people to sleep inside and receive services and supports
  • Increasing housing availability for encampment residents by exploring all available funding options to create more housing subsidies and create more sheltering options through the leasing/re-purposing of buildings.


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