Forward Ave. shelter closure: Leiper/McKenney statement

Yesterday evening we learned that the City intends to close the Forward Avenue family shelter effective December 15. The news is now reverberating throughout our community, especially those providing services to the families who now reside there. We and colleagues Councillors Deans and Taylor have pressed upon our City staff our immediate concern that those affected families be appropriately housed and have received some assurances as outlined below.

Beyond the immediate concern for those families’ welfare, of course, the closure of this facility when there are on average nearly 200 families living in motels each night raises the pressing need to address family shelters in our city.

We have been assured that the 14 families living in this shelter will be offered housing in a new transitional housing development near South Keys that offers a significant improvement in living standard. However, we are also keenly aware that agencies such as Somerset West Community Health Centre and Parkdale Food Centre are providing critical wraparound services to the families living on Forward, and that the kids are attending schools in the area that are used to successfully integrating those housed at the shelter.

We have insisted that families who choose to stay in their neighbourhood be housed there.

Three of the residents have secured permanent housing for as of December 1 and staff are working with each family individually to review all options.

The shelter is being closed due to cost. At the end of its lifecycle, it needs extensive renovations to be livable, some of which were actually underway until recently. This news came as a surprise since in the most recent city budget money was allocated for repairs. However, right now only 14 of its rooms are in use of the original 18 due to the building’s declining state. Money being put into those repairs has been deemed good money after bad. We have asked for a list of the repairs that would be necessary to keep the shelter open for at least the remainder of the school year and how much those would cost.

We have heard multiple stories about the crisis in family housing. Last weekend, we heard from one of our local faith groups about a family that had sought their help to find a place to stay for the night having been turned away by the City, and who subsequently lived in their car for days. We have heard most recently about a mother and young child who were turned away from shelter and forced to sleep outside. We have hundreds of families staying in motels, and family use of shelters is rising. According to the Alliance to End Homelessness:

“The rise in Ottawa’s shelter use between 2014 to 2017 is primarily influenced by an increase in overall family use of shelters. Family household shelter use rose by 33% since 2014. There were on average 182 families nightly living in off-site motels in 2017.”

We will continue to work with staff and the families at the Forward shelter to ensure that their needs are met in the most respectful and compassionate manner possible under the circumstances. We have requested also that this information is brought to the next Community and Protective Services Committee as an item for full discussion. If we are going to properly address our growing affordable housing crisis it must be done in an open forum where we are held to account for our collective decisions.

(The image attached to this post is a screenshot from the Alliance to End Homelessness' 2014-2017 progress report, available here.)

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