Homelessness, housing tops LRT as priorities for Ottawans: poll

More Ottawa residents want the city to make homelessness and affordable housing, not LRT, its top priorities, a new poll by Nanos Research suggests.

"People have seen the homeless people in the streets in their city like never before. They want to see people housed," said Peter Tilley, CEO of The Ottawa Mission, which commissioned the poll.

"The thing that people are losing sleep over is a lack of affordable housing and people staying in homeless shelters instead of a nice home."

Twenty-nine per cent of Ottawa respondents think housing and homelessness should be the top issue for the city, compared to only 11 per cent who chose light rail transit, Nanos research found.

"We need other levels of government to come to the table, and we need other levels of government to help build affordable housing," Tilley said.

The poll results are based on a telephone survey of 801 Ottawa residents between Oct. 22 and Nov. 1. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Respondents empathetic

The poll also suggests most Ottawa residents feel strongly about the plight of people they think may be homeless. Nanos Research reports 44 per cent of respondents said they feel sadness when they see someone who they think is homeless, while 41 per cent feel compassion and a desire to help.

"What struck me is that there's a significant amount of empathy and support for homelessness," said Nick Nanos, chief data scientist at Nanos Research.

"People in Ottawa are [nearly] three times more likely to want to see homelessness as a priority for city council compared to some of the issues that it's managing on the LRT front."

The poll suggests about one in three Ottawa residents believe government, along with charities and families and friends of people who are homeless, share equal responsibility for helping vulnerable people find housing.

"One of the clear messages that we heard is that Ottawans don't believe this is just a municipal issue. They want to see municipal government, provincial government and our federal government [work] on homelessness to find solutions," Nanos said.

Laura Glowacki/CBC

Over the past year, The Ottawa Mission has expanded its efforts to find housing for its shelter clients, according to its report for the period of May 1, 2018, to April 30, 2019, released Thursday.

Of the 2,121 clients the charity housed in its emergency shelter over that period, the Mission said it helped find homes for 193, and hopes to boost that number to 250 by year's end, Tilley said.

The data does not include clients who found housing on their own.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who chairs the board of Ottawa Community Housing, said the data still paints a bleak picture of housing and how difficult it is to find an affordable place to live in the capital.

"The numbers speak for themselves," Fleury said following a news conference at The Ottawa Mission on Thursday.

"The city is responsible for that, and federal and provincial governments have failed us on policies around rental accommodations."