Ottawa Citizen, April 22, 2015 - Dedicated volunteers across Ottawa have been out in the rain this week talking with homeless people as part of a pilot housing project.
Ottawa, Waterloo and Hamilton are pilot communities for the national 20,000 Homes campaign to roll out in June this year. The campaign is led by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.
Despite being soaking wet, volunteer Michelle Reimer spent her Monday evening putting names to faces to get to know the homeless in her community.
“It’s not a choice to be homeless,” volunteer Michelle Reimer said. “Something happened, and you can trace their life. This is not where they want to be.”
“It’s more than a campaign. It’s like a housing intervention,” said Mike Bulthuis, executive director of the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa.
Volunteers are paired with staff who have experience in social services. The teams go out into the community to survey the homeless population and find out their stories.
“I’m driven by my main interest in the root cause, the accumulative challenges and barriers in society,” said Reimer.
Survey volunteers conduct questionnaires that look at everything from medical history to levels of education. The goal is to get a better understanding of homelessness in Ottawa.
Based on the survey scores, the alliance is able to judge who is most in need of housing assistance.
“The survey is like a triage. What comes out is a score for who is most vulnerable,” said Bulthuis. “We have some excellent data about the homeless in shelters, but we know a lot less about the hidden homeless.”
The “hidden homeless” can include people who are staying on friends’ couches or in hostels, or living out of their cars.
“People become strategic and resourceful,” said Reimer. “They figure out where they can get food, where it’s safe to sleep. They don’t think about, ‘How do I get out of this pattern, this rut.’”
Volunteer Allison Everett debriefs the survey teams to see what homeless people have been saying in response to the questionnaires. Many of their stories include problems with addiction and violence.
She said that the campaign focuses on housing first, because it is the first step in preventing chronic homelessness. If people have a roof over their head it allows them to make connections to other resources like health care and education.
“We need to focus on shelter first and then we can work our way up the ladder,” said Everett.
Bulthuis said the campaign is not just to raise awareness but to create better strategies for dealing with homelessness. The data collected from the survey will be made available to different housing programs.
The alliance would work with the city to improve and co-ordinate existing social services, as well as to create new housing solutions. One option might include working with landlords to provide rent supplements.
“It’s a call to action. We all have a role to play,” said Bulthuis. “It’s ensuring that when they become housed, that they feel like a part of the community. When they’re moving into a new apartment, we can help to furnish it and make it a home.”
Campaign organizers will present their top findings from the survey to the public at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Ottawa Little Theatre.