April 11, 2024

Ottawa Mission Issues Major Report Highlighting Epidemic Levels of Homelessness and Food Insecurity

Ottawa, ON – Today The Ottawa Mission issued a major report on epidemic levels of homelessness and food insecurity in Ottawa and across Canada. Ottawa Mission CEO Peter Tilley noted this impact in stark terms. “For the past several years, our shelter has dealt with a homelessness emergency, increased mental health distress and substance use, as well as food inflation. This has stretched our capacity to serve vulnerable community members to the limit. On top of this, since last summer, our shelter has seen record numbers of newcomers turn to us for help. This continues to have a major impact on our operations, including our meal service, frontline, clothing room, and our housing case managers.”

Chef Ric Allen-Watson, Director of Food Services for the shelter, confirmed this impact on the shelter’s meal numbers. “The meals we provided to our community doubled during the pandemic, rising to over one million in 2022 – 2023. This is astonishing when you remember that Ottawa has just over one million people. This has been driven by our food truck program, which started as a pandemic response with five community partners and has grown to now 35 organizations across our city. With so many newcomers now under our roof, our annual meal numbers will rise even higher to between 1.1 to 1.2 million meals. Our food truck program costs almost $1 million per year, and we have to absorb these additional costs on top of that.”

Ashley Potter, Manager of Frontline Services for The Mission, noted the impact of recent arrivals on frontline operations and related supports. “Frontline staff are the first point of contact for anyone seeking help. We were already at overcapacity before last summer, with all our dorm beds plus nine mats for people to sleep on in our chapel floor also full. Since last summer, we’ve also had dozens of newcomers and others sleeping on chairs in our lounge every night, and have had to turn others away to alternative accommodation. We’ve also had to purchase winter clothing as well as toiletries since many newcomers arrive here with nothing. Meeting this increased need has further strained our budgets for these items.”

CEO Tilley noted the impact of providing housing services to newcomers within a very difficult housing environment. “Over the course of the pandemic, despite almost no affordable housing in Ottawa and the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, our housing case managers were able to place 424 clients into housing. This was not easy, but a permanent home is always our goal for our shelter guests. Now, instead of working to help guests find permanent homes, our housing staff are helping newcomers navigate the process to apply for refugee status, which means our ability to help shelter guests to find new homes has been impacted.”

These developments are occurring against a backdrop of epidemic levels of homelessness and food insecurity in Ottawa, Ontario and across Canada. Despite the National Housing Strategy commitment to housing as a human right and access to food as part of the federal poverty reduction strategy to ensure dignity, the lives of millions of people are compromised by these factors.

Vulnerable populations, including refugees and asylum seekers, are at particular risk of these conditions. The Mission is urging the federal government to end the distinction between refugee claimants and asylum seekers by establishing welcome centres to support new arrivals, and flow additional funds to the City of Ottawa to support newcomers.

Recent announcements by the federal government concerning housing and a national school food program are encouraging. Having said this, to make meaningful progress on unprecedented food insecurity and homelessness, The Mission is calling on the federal government to:

  • Implement a Homelessness Prevention and Housing Benefit to support households at risk of homelessness, help people leave homelessness, and reduce pressure on Canada’s homelessness systems.
  • Implement all recommendations from the Federal Housing Advocate on encampments through launching a National Encampments Response Plan by August 31 to save lives.
  • Implement all recommendations from the Auditor General of Canada’s 2022 report on the National Housing Strategy.
  • Implement a grocer’s code of conduct to ensure transparency and fairness in food prices and further measures in addition to its recently announced school food policy to address food insecurity in children.

The Mission is also encouraged by recent announcements concerning housing and homelessness by the government of Ontario. In addition to these commitments, The Mission is also calling on the government of Ontario to:

  • Implement all recommendations from the Auditor General of Ontario’s 2021 audit of homelessness programs.
  • Address the erosion of affordable housing by reintroducing rent controls to buildings erected after November 2018, increasing the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit and making it permanent and clarifying the Residential Tenancies Act to support municipal bylaws to prohibit bad faith renovictions.
  • Address inadequate incomes for vulnerable Ontarians by increasing social assistance rates to enable those receiving this benefit to live with dignity and security as well as the provincial minimum wage to enable earners to meet their expenses without having to work multiple positions.

“As Ottawa’s oldest and largest homeless shelter, we urge all governments to work together to ensure that safe, appropriate and affordable housing and nutritious food are human rights for all Canadians and not a luxury only for those who can afford them,” CEO Tilley concluded.

Read Report: No More Waiting: A Call to Action Against Homelessness and Food Insecurity

About The Ottawa Mission
Since 1906, The Ottawa Mission has been serving those who are homeless, hungry and lost by providing food, clothing, shelter and skills. In 2022-2023, The Ottawa Mission provided emergency shelter to an average of 177 men every night and served an average of 2,898 meals every day. The Ottawa Mission also provides to men and women health services, mental health and addiction treatment programs, hospice care, dental services, housing services, educational support, job training, spiritual care, and clothing to thousands in need in our community. In September 2020, The Ottawa Mission marked the one millionth hour that the shelter has been in existence since its founding in 1906. In 2019, the Mission became a housing-focused shelter reflective of its commitment to a home for everyone as a human right with the launch of a new housing department.

Aileen Leo
Director of Communications
T 613.234.1144 x 305
C: 613.712.3092