The Work of the Human Needs Task Force

Update on how we are helping our most vulnerable:

The work of the Human Needs Task Force

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to join Mayor Jim Watson and General Manager Donna Gray to provide an update on the Human Needs Task Force. Here are some highlights and important information:  

Social Services Funding Supports:  

Earlier this month, the city received half of a $13.3 million commitment from the Province as part of the Social Services Relief Fund for 2020-2021. This is in addition to the $4.8 million previously received through the federal Reaching Home funding. In total, the city has received $11.4 million in immediate funding. This funding is intended to support the needs of people who are vulnerable during this challenging time. Specifically, $8.3 million in funding is being used immediately to support:  

  • Emergency sheltering needs  
  • COVID-19 isolation centres and hotel rooms used for isolation  
  • Physical distancing centres and hotels for individuals and families experiencing homelessness 
  • Housing and homelessness outreach, basic needs, and day programs 

Additionally, $3 million will be allocated to non-profit organizations to address persistent and immediate needs. The funding will be allocated to agencies that are doing essential supports and services to address these challenges. These include:  

  • Homelessness services providers and residential services homes 
  • Agencies providing essential services and supports for at-risk residents and equity seeking communities with a special focus on indigenous communities and women 

The city classifies “essential services and supports” as food security, services coordination to meet extraordinary needs, direct services for isolated seniors, other at-risk residents, and equity-seeking communities.   

The Human Needs Task Force has developed a funding framework to distribute the $3 million of this funding among eligible community agencies. The city is inviting applications from local non-profit agencies that are working and meet the criteria to apply for funding. Interested agencies can find the complete Social Services Relief Fund Terms of Reference and simplified Application Package here. Staff are working to triage and will respond in a timely fashion. Agencies can expect to have these funds distributed by early May.  

Food Security:  

Part of the work of the Human Needs Task Force includes food security. This is a subgroup created to identify ongoing needs and gaps within Ottawa’s food network and to coordinate approaches to the growing needs.  

The Task Force has created a food resource fact sheet to provide residents with information on key pick up and food delivery services options in their communities.  

In addition to this work, the Ottawa Food Bank provided over $550,00 in grocery store gift cards to clients until April 20th. This enabled food banks the time necessary to replenish their stocks and secure reliable supply chains. Our local Kanata Food Cupboard continues to do incredible work to support our community. You can find more information on their work here. 

Wellness Checks:  

Not everyone is connected to the internet and it is important that we do everything possible to check in on the most vulnerable. Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) has been hard at work doing phone calls to check in with residents. They have called 1,451 residents on their emergency call list and have started calling 6,300 seniors. The Task Force has also partnered with the Red Cross to conduct door-to-door wellness checks of all OCH residents who they were unable to reach by phone.   

This work is continuing. By the end of April, the Human Needs Task Force will have a plan that addresses the needs of those more isolated and vulnerable in our communities. This will include things like:  

  • Working with school boards to contact families they have been unable to reach 
  • Connecting with other services providers that support vulnerable residents within the city to see how to further support outreach activities 
  • Working with Councillors offices to reach out to isolated populations in each ward 
  • Working with community associations to find out which supports are missing 

Support for Rural and Isolated Seniors 

The Human Needs Task Force is actively collaborating with Councillors from West-Carleton, Cumberland, Osgoode, and Rideau-Goulburn to identify the current gaps and needs among rural seniors. The biggest challenge is not knowing the supports that are available. To meet this challenge, postcards with resource information have been mailed out. The Human Needs Task Force and Red Cross will continue to work together with rural community partners to identify residents who need additional supports. The Champlain Community Support Network has developed a centralized list of community supports, which you can find here 

Community and Family Shelters 

The city has a family shelter system that serves more than 500 families who use shared bathrooms and kitchens. This communal living increases the risk of contracting COVID-19. To mitigate this risk, the city continues to work to secure hotels, motels, and post-secondary spaces to allow physical distancing to be possible. This work has secured 70 hotel rooms and allowed 70 families to be moved, and a further 70 rooms will be secured shortly. The city continues to work to secure an additional 50 hotel rooms to further allow 50 families to meet physical distancing needs. These families are also receiving personal needs supports including food and wellness checks and are supported by a team of housing case workers and community agencies.  

The city continues to look at all options that are available for permanent housing to increase the affordable housing supply with the possibility for long term use. However, additional funding from all levels of government is needed to be able to move this forward. Additional work is being done by Housing Services in conjunction with social housing providers to determine market and geared to income unites that can be made available for people experiencing homelessness. In the coming weeks, the city will roll out the new Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit, which would be targeted towards single women and lone female led households to help find housing in the private market, which is a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the risks families living in temporary housing arrangements are facing. To further support these families, a 28-unit building has been secured from the University of Ottawa for families that have tested positive for COVID-19. Staff are working to further grow the units available and are working with a hotel provider to secure another 28 units.  

Individuals Experiencing Homelessness:  

There are approximately 860 individuals living in the community shelter system every day and 90 living on the streets. These individuals are particularly at risk of contracting COVID-19 and the city continues to take steps to try and mitigate the risk. Measures include:  

  • Immediately implanted enhanced screening and infection control and social distancing practices within the shelter system 
  • Addressed immediate basic needs 
  • Created dedicated isolation centres as described above 
  • Created additional physical distancing capacity within our shelter system 

Screening Controls in Shelters 

Shelters are following the direction provided by OPH and have implemented OPH’s Infection and Prevention Control Guide for Homelessness Service settings. This work is continuing to be done to ensure all organizations and agencies are following the latest guidance by OPH. To this end, Ottawa Inner City Health has played a key role in the singles emergency shelter system, identifying and implementing screening and assessment protocols for front line staff to follow. Ottawa Inner City Health also has a mobile assessment van that can be used to respond to any suspected case and test within the singles shelter system. To protect individuals, any symptomatic person is isolated at the Salvation Army while waiting for test resultsOttawa Inner Health also has nursing supports and case conferencing are available through this organization 24/7.  

Basic Supports for the Homeless 

There are some basic supports that staff have been working with organizations to be able to provide during this pandemic. These include things like supporting basic needs, isolation and treatment of individuals expediting homelessness, enhancing physical distancing. Here are some of the highlights:  

  • Currently five portable washrooms have been installed in the downtown core and a long-term solution to permanently address needs is being developed. McNabb Recreation Centre’s shower and washroom facility has opened this week to provide people experiencing homelessness access to showers.   
  • To support isolation and treatment of individuals experiencing homelessness, the Human Needs Task Force has partnered with the Ottawa Inner City Health and the community shelter system, and a 40-bed isolation and treatment centre was opened at the Routhier Community Centre. An additional 40bed isolation centre at the Le Patro d’Ottawa Recreation Centre has opened in partnership with the Shepheard of Good Hope, the Royal Ottawa Hospital, and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. This will support the Residential Services Homes and the provincial Homes for Special Care program.  
  • To enhance physical distancing in the single shelter system, the Jim Durrell Recreation Centre will provide immediate physical distancing space for the men’s shelter system. The City’s Housing Services Team, supported by community homelessness partners, will manage this 140person centre.  

The Human Needs Task Force is also looking at securing 50 hotel rooms for women and youth in the emergency shelter system to provide an opportunity for physical distancing. The Youth Services Bureau along with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario will soon open an isolation rooms for 16 to 21-year olds in the emergency shelter system who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19. The city is continuing to explore the possibility of securing medium- and longer-term shelter capacity options for single men and women to reduce crowding and overflow situations.  

Financial Support to Individuals and Families 

All levels of government continue to support low-income households directly impacted by this pandemic. In previous daily updates, I have provided a comprehensive overview of these programs. If you require assistance, please reach out to your Member of Parliament, Karen McCrimmon, for Federal Government Programs and your Member of Provincial Government, Merrilee Fullerton, for Provincial Government Programs. Additionally, you can call 3-1-1 and press 4 for social assistance.   

This is just a small sample of the work that the Human Needs Task Force has been doing to support some of the most vulnerable groups and communities in our city. I am proud of the work that has been occurring, but I know that there is much more to do. I will continue to keep everyone updated of this important work.