Homelessness Lab working to remove housing barriers

By Allan Martel

The Family Homelessness Lab continues its work, now beyond the funded stage but with the involvement of the City of Ottawa, social agencies, and the Community Collective.
The lab is working to identify weaknesses in the current interventions offered to homeless families while exploring potential solutions to prevent homelessness.
Canada Ontario Housing Benefits (COHBs) are normally reserved for families exiting shelters. Earlier this summer, the city provided 20 COHBs to support the Rapid Resolution Table (RRT) efforts to house families before resorting to shelters.
This support indicates a fundamental shift in the city’s focus from a shelter-first and then support, to supporting families first and avoiding shelters altogether.
The RRT continues to hold regular meetings to investigate the systemic issues that prevent rapid action to help families facing imminent homelessness, or who are already homeless.
The Lab Core Group team has prepared a detailed review of the homelessness solution processes in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region. This review was presented to the City of Ottawa and followed up by a discussion with the city’s housing staff.
Case studies of individual families shed light on aberrations in the housing search system that cause long delays and missed opportunities. Here are a few examples of what we have seen that either delay the rehousing process or stop it altogether:

  • Refugee families require documentation from the federal government (Canada Revenue Agency and Immigration Refugee and Citizenship Canada). As obtaining the documentation needed is a lengthy process, available opportunities for rapid rehousing may be missed.
  • Some landlords do not extend lease approval before receiving last month’s rent. However, some funding agencies require a signed and approved lease before the last month’s rent cheque can be issued. That contradiction results in a halt to the process of finding shelter, a Catch-22 that we are working to fix.
  • We have seen cases where housing has been located but where the process of obtaining COHB support was lengthy, resulting in the housing unit being no longer available when funding support for the tenant was approved.

The situation isn’t all negative. The Family Homelessness Lab’s RRT was formed to promote policy learning through examining and resolving individual cases. Indeed, we are quite optimistic, as an informed and passionate group of actors in government, in agencies and in the Lab are working diligently to remove barriers in housing homeless families.
Whereas there are no quick fixes here, there is the collective will to make this work and there is visible and laudable progress being made as we learn where to focus our efforts and how to foster even better collaboration.
As the Lab continues its work, one next step is to document some case studies so as to shine light on each and every step in the process thereby enabling us to understand better what’s actually happening and to rework policies and processes to make the system operate better at all levels.