Ottawa, ON – Today, representatives from The Ottawa Mission, Ottawa city council and the province marked the one millionth hours that the shelter has been in existence since its foundation in September 1906. The Mission also released a major report on its impact within the community during the past year, accomplishments that were achieved in the midst of both the Covid-19 pandemic and the homelessness emergency gripping Ottawa.
“The Ottawa Mission was founded less than 50 years after Confederation. At that time, Canada had a population of 6.5 million people. More than 50% of Canadians lived in rural areas. Neither women nor Indigenous peoples could vote. Average life expectancy was 50 years,” noted Councillor Catherine McKenney, City Council’s Special Liaison for Housing and Homelessness, who MC’ed the event.
Last year, the Ottawa Mission:
Ottawa Mission CEO Peter Tilley noted the parallels between the profound hardship of the Great Depression and current situation due to Covid19 and lack of access to affordable housing. “In 1929, the Mission served just over 73,000 meals. By 1932, we had served over 425,000 meals, a sixfold increase. The shelter also accommodated an overflow of transient men searching for survival in truly desperate times. As during the Great Depression, this year, Covid19 has made our situation even more difficult, with so many people in our community falling on hard times. This, coupled with our emergency situation since then concerning homelessness, has been particularly difficult for us, but we’ve risen to this challenge.”
Chef Ric Allen-Watson also noted the parallels between long ago and today for The Ottawa Mission. “When I learned that the Ottawa Mission has served over 18.3 million meals over one million hours, I thought: Wow. I then thought: what would all of those people have done if the Mission wasn’t here?” He continued. “The pandemic has made community hunger much, much worse. Hungry community members now receive three meals at once through our garage entrance. I’ve personally seen people who are so hungry that they rip the bag of food open as soon as they get it. That’s why we continue with this service.”
Former Board of Directors President Paul Mckechnie noted the evolution of The Ottawa Mission emergency services to help those in need improve their lives. “My history here goes back a long way. My father was a board member here. He brought me here over 60 years ago, and I’ve been attached to the Mission ever since. it’s both remarkable and poignant to consider what has changed, and yet, what remains the same about The Ottawa Mission. When I see the growth in services and the broad range of services that the Mission offers, it’s both thrilling and humbling to watch it grow.”
Manager of Housing Services Marc Gallant noted the results of the first year of the Mission’s new Housing Department, a tangible demonstration of the Mission’s commitment to safe and affordable housing as a human right. “Before COVID-19, we had made great strides in finding homes for shelter guests and diverting people to alternate accommodation: housing placements were up 34% and those diverted were up by 61%. After the pandemic was declared, many external agencies curtailed or stopped their operations altogether, and requirements to stay home made it difficult to support clients in their housing searches. However, staff persevered and continued to offer support when and where they could. As a result, we placed 202 people into housing, a 4.7% increase over last year, and the number of individuals diverted away from the shelter to alternative accommodation increased to 168, or 37.7%. These impressive results under very difficult circumstances provide a positive outlook for the future on our work to ensure that everyone has a home.”
Councillor Mathieu Fleury noted The Mission’s results concerning homelessness. “I’m glad to see the success of the Mission’s Housing Department. These efforts need to continue to grow, with support from the City of Ottawa. In addition to our City’s housing and homelessness emergency, the effects of COVID19 have clearly demonstrated the gaps in services available to our most vulnerable. The Mission works hard every day to support those in need in our community.”
Mayor Jim Watson noted the recent partnership between the City of Ottawa and the shelter to keep people safe during the pandemic. “The City has been very pleased to work with the Mission’s staff and other homelessness service providers concerning both the Routhier self-isolation centre for Covid19 as well as the Jim Durrell Centre and the Dempsey Community Centre to support social distancing measures within the shelter system to ensure that shelter guests, employees, and volunteers remain safe.”
Jacques de Moissac representing MPP Lucille Collard noted the particular challenges facing the provincial riding of Rideau-Vanier. “The riding of Rideau-Vanier has unique challenges. Unfortunately, it has the highest usage of food banks in all of Ontario. MPP Collard is glad to know that the Ottawa Mission is here to meet the needs of our constituents for access to healthy food. To have served over 520,000 meals last year and over 18 million meals over these past million hours is truly amazing.
Councillor McKenney also noted the changes to those who have sought The Mission’s help over time. “As the oldest and largest homeless shelter in Ottawa, the Mission has changed remarkably to continue to meet the needs of our most vulnerable community members. As it has changed, those who turn to the shelter for help have changed as well: both men and women; those from racialized communities, including refugees and new immigrants; those who are First Nations, Inuit and Métis; those who belong to gender and sexual minorities; and those of different faiths, or of no faith. I congratulate the Ottawa Mission for continuing to deliver your essential services to our most vulnerable community members. This is especially important now given the twin challenges that our community continues to face from both a homelessness emergency, and also the Covid19 pandemic,” they concluded.
About The Ottawa Mission
Since 1906, The Ottawa Mission has been serving the homeless, the hungry and the lost by providing food, clothing, shelter and hope. In 2018 – 2019, The Ottawa Mission provided emergency shelter to an average of 195 men every night and served an average of 1,358 meals every day. The Ottawa Mission also provides health services, mental health and addiction treatment programs, hospice care, dental services, educational support, job training, spiritual care, and men’s clothing to thousands in need in our community.
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