‘We need to do more:’ Ottawa mayor meets with federal ministers to talk about housing

Florence Ittusardjuat moved to Ottawa from Iqaluit due to the northern housing crisis, and says her rent jumped from $750 to $1,200 in this month alone.

Outside 510 Rideau, a drop in centre for Indigenous people that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, she called on the government to skip the talking and act immediately now that city hall has declared a housing emergency.

Ittusardjuat called on Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson “to act right away because people can’t freeze outside. We’re living human beings. Like, really? Are you going to do that to us? We barely have any resources for help, and we need resources that can help us.”

Ottawa city hall voted unanimously to declare the affordable housing and homelessness emergency on Wednesday.

Watson met with federal minister of Families, Children, and Social Development Ahmed Hussen Thursday to discuss moving forward.

“We added $15 million to the budget for this year to build more affordable housing,” said Watson.

He said all three levels of government need to better co-ordinate in the future. He also said he brought up the position of Indigenous peoples in the nation’s capital.

“I specifically raised the issue of Indigenous peoples who don’t have decent, warm places to call home. In particular, I told him we have the largest Inuit population in southern Canada located right here in Ottawa,” he told APTN News.

“So we know we need to do more and that’s why I met with the minister, and I spoke with the provincial minister this week as well. We want all hands on deck because we want all three levels of government working together to get more houses built and more shovels in the ground.”

Tina Slauenwhite, manager of the housing department at Wabano Centre, said Indigenous service providers can’t be ignored in any solution.

“We need to be included. I don’t understand why we’re continually being that afterthought,” she told APTN last week.

“I think there’s enough out there, enough knowledge for people to know that if you’re going to make any changes with regards to Indigenous homelessness that you need to be able to include those individuals that are working with the community – people that are living that experience in the community – in order for that change to happen.”

Read More:

Indigenous agencies say they can’t be an ‘afterthought’ when dealing with homelessness in Ottawa

A crisis on two fronts: The urban Inuit caught between two housing shortages

Ottawa city counc. Catherine McKenney tabled the motion.

McKenney said the government is morally obligated to address this problem head on.

“Here in this city the Indigenous population makes up 2.5 per cent of our overall population,” said McKenney, “but we know that it represents about 30 per cent of our homeless population. And that we really need to be ashamed of, we need to focus on. We have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure that we end 100 per cent chronic homelessness, but we have to ensure that we keep that special focus on Indigenous homelessness and affordability for Indigenous people in this city.”

Elvis Sundown is not a statistic. He’s a 60s Scoop survivor and Ottawa resident since 1986.

He’s been homeless for years.

He says the solutions are there, but the political will to act isn’t.

“There are a lot of government buildings out there. Vacant. Doing nothing. Just sitting there rotting,” he said. “Why don’t they take the government buildings, fix them? Shelters.”

For now, however, meetings appear to be the only thing on the agenda.

Watson said he’d like the next federal budget to be themed around housing.

Reporter / Ottawa

Originally from the Cree Nation of Chisasibi on the eastern coast of James Bay, Quebec, Jamie has lived in Ottawa since 2015. Trained in journalism at Carleton University, he has worked as a freelance print journalist and as a writer/researcher for the Cree unit of CBC North out of Montreal. Jamie was hired as the reporter/correspondent for the Ottawa bureau in October 2019.