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Hundreds of families live in hotels and motels waiting for permanent housing in Ottawa

The City of Ottawa says there are about 300 families or 1,039 people staying in hotels, motels, and post-secondary residences waiting for permanent housing because emergency shelters are over-capacity.

Jamieson Ferguson and her family were once one of them. The 26-year-old mother of three, expecting her fourth, stayed in a motel for just over two years.

“Let me tell you, that is not a place for children,” she said.

Ferguson says she couldn’t find affordable housing and was placed in a hotel in 2021.

Finally, in Dec. 2023, she was placed in an apartment with the help of a case worker. But with a rent of $2,500 a month plus hydro, she worries even a subsidy won’t cover it.

“Ottawa is stressful and very unhopeful for housing. I know people are trying to hang onto hope, but there is little to none,” she said.

In 2023, the city spent $13.5 million to provide housing at hotels, motels, and post-secondary residences to families experiencing homelessness in Ottawa.

Ottawa city councillor Ariel Troster says Ferguson’s story is not uncommon.

“Unfortunately, it is very common, we have families living in tiny motel rooms, for years at a time, that is not what they were designed for at all,” said Troster, who is part of the city’s emergency task force to deal with the housing and emergency shelter crisis.

“Our family shelter system is currently at 330 per cent capacity, which means the city has been using hotels and motels, initially as a temporary measure, but families are staying, and they are staying much longer than expected because rents have gone so high.”

Troster says the affordability crisis, lack of housing and the influx of newcomers to Canada is putting stress on the system.

“We as a city have been working very hard to increase the number of subsidies available to help folks find housing on the private market and we are also innovating with a higher subsidy for larger families,” said Troster.

She says there still isn’t enough to deal with the growing problem.

“It is really difficult because there isn’t enough affordable private housing, there is almost none anymore, so it leaves a lot of families staying in a room where they have no walls or kitchen facilities.”

As part of the city’s 2024 budget, $33.5 million in municipal funds were allocated to improve access to housing and provide support to keep people housed, including $15.7 million for the housing and homelessness investment plan and $8.8 million for housing benefits through Ontario Works.

This week, the city opened a new transitional housing facility on Corkstown Road for families who are waiting for permanent housing.

The four-storey, 170-unit building was transformed from a vacant retirement home into a facility to help families. Eighteen families are expected to be moving in this coming week.

The site of a former retirement home on 1 Corkstown Road which is expected to be converted into transitional housing. (Jim O’Grady/CTV News Ottawa)Troster says the city can’t solve the situation alone and needs support from other levels of government.

“The answer to our housing crisis is to massively build up non-profit affordable housing. Relying on the private market is not sustainable,” she said.

“The roots of homelessness in Canada are because for thirty years, the federal government got out of the business of building public housing. We need to scale that up massively and we need support from other levels of government.”

Ferguson, as she struggles to make ends meet, worries she will be back in the motel, which has been the only place her 3-year-old daughter has come to know.

“That is what she thinks is a home, when we moved in [to an apartment], she looked at me and said ‘I want to go home’ and we had to explain to her that a motel is not a home.”

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