Ottawa's community housing model 'failing' some tenants and needs support, says CEO

Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) is working on ways to provide help for tenants waiting to get into supportive housing and at risk of falling back into homelessness, its CEO Stéphane Giguère told city councillors on Wednesday.

About 3,000 of OCH's 33,000 residents need some sort of complex care, Giguère said.

Its strategy is to better "align" the services already available through community agencies and draw on resources to make those residents — and their neighbours — feel safe and secure.

"We need the support of council. We need the support of the city, the city employees, all the departments, because the complexity of what we're dealing with involves safety, involves security, involves trespassing, involves also caring for the residents," he said.

The solutions will depend on individual need, Giguère explained.

That could mean having a primary care clinic on a building's main floor, for which OCH is hoping to receive provincial funding, or housing some residents on secure floors to ensure their safety and the safety of others.

"When you have the support at home ... you succeed," he said.

Giguère said OCH began looking into solutions six to seven years ago, when it noted that tenants were ending up in emergency rooms more often than they should, and for the "wrong reasons."

During the pandemic the housing provider increased mental health support.

When you have the support at home ... you succeed. - Stéphane Giguère, Ottawa Community Housing CEO

"But what we realized post pandemic is that the ones that were the most vulnerable were still in need, and that need has to come to where they live," he said.

OCH's latest annual report states housing tenants with "unknown complex needs" and little or no support is a "failing" model.

"I couldn't agree more," said Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper. "I think most of the councillors who sit around this table have been in meetings with tenants about the effects that problematic behaviours among some tenants in the building are creating."

Somerset Coun. Ariel Troster agreed, saying residents of one building "tell me consistently that they don't feel safe and a lot of that is because their neighbours require complex care and aren't receiving it."

Somerset Coun. Ariel Troster talks to Kitchisippi Coun. Jeff Leiper during an Ottawa City Council meeting on Jan. 24, 2024.
Somerset Coun. Ariel Troster and Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper supported the initiative from Ottawa Community Housing and asked how councillors can help. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Both said OCH has been doing a remarkable job, and wanted to know what council can do to help.

Giguère said boosting funding for its supportive housing partners would help, while Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, who chairs the housing provider's board of directors, hopes the one-time $1.5-million funding for security will be renewed.