04/16/2010

2010 AMO Urban Symposium, Lincoln Alexander Theatre, Hamilton, Ontario. Friday, April 16, 2010.
Remarks by: 
2010 AMO Urban Symposium  
Peter Hume, AMO President and
Councillor, City of Ottawa
Friday April 16, 2010 – 8:30 am 
Lincoln Alexander Theatre
Hamilton, Ontario 

(Check Against Delivery)

On behalf of AMO, thank you for attending our third annual Urban Symposium.

I want to thank Hamilton for hosting this year’s symposium – and I want to thank Russ Power in particular.  Russ works hard for his constituents and his community... but he also rolls up his sleeves to assist all Ontario communities through his service as an AMO Board Member.  It involves long hours and travel that few people see.  Of course I see it through the course of my duties, I’m grateful to have his contribution. 

I also want to thank the speakers who will be joining us.  Some have travelled great distance and all have invested significant time and energy into sharing their expertise with us. 

This symposium features perspectives, ideas and innovations from around the world.  Through them, we can learn new things about our own communities and how we might serve them better.

By now, I expect you are well acquainted with this year’s program.  Both yesterday and today, we have and will explore topics ranging from energy and sustainability, to technology and citizen engagement.
 
I am particularly pleased to know that Senator Art Eggelton will join us.  As Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Cities, he has been sounding the alarm on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness.

This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.

Without a doubt, he is aware of what we are doing to fight homelessness in my home City of Ottawa – and I would like to use this opportunity to share our story with you.
 
Three years ago -- at an AMO Conference -- I had the pleasure of meeting and learning about Philip Mangano, former Director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness.

He spoke about the need to “move beyond funding to investing – beyond inputs, to outcomes -- and beyond managing the crisis to ending the disgrace”.  

I was so impressed by Mangano’s approach that I grabbed Ottawa’s Director of Housing and together we paid a visit to Washington.  We learned a ton and invited Mangano back to Ottawa to meet with our City Council and staff.  

Since then, Ottawa has transformed its approach to ending homelessness.

You heard that right.  I said, ‘ending’ homelessness.  

We’re not interested in managing homelessness.  We want to end it.  

Now, as it happens, we set that objective on the eve of the deepest global recession any of us have ever known – and the record demand for social services that it created.
 
Urban communities all across Ontario are all too familiar with this demand and the human faces behind it.

In Ottawa, 7,514 people used emergency shelter beds last year.

More than 1,200 of them were children.

On any given night, more than 1,000 people were sleeping in shelter beds – or even shelter hallways.
 
As many as 1,400 of our residents are deemed to be “chronically homeless” – meaning they were living on the streets or shelters, for more than 60 consecutive days.

You know, we are all in the “hope” business.  That’s what we do.  That’s our job.  That’s what people expect from us.  But at times the challenges feel overwhelming.

The only seed of hope that we had in 2008 was an appreciation that current systems weren’t working and there had to be a better way.
 
We set out to find it – and our first step was the creation of a broad-based “Leadership Table” to study homelessness in Ottawa and pose solutions.

This was a page straight out of Mangano’s hand-book.

A growing list of North American Cities have learned that you can create a broad support for a ‘housing first’ strategy by engaging business leaders and public service providers to explore the challenge together.

The simple reason: Housing homeless people improved lives AND saves money.

Public policy doesn’t get any better than that.

The common misconception is that housing people will be costly, but all things are relative.

In actual fact, treating the symptoms of homelessness is more expensive that providing shelter.

If someone living on the streets gets into an altercation with another street person, someone calls 911.  The police and paramedics arrive.  He is taken to an emergency room and treated.  Follow-up is provided by outreach workers. 

In Ottawa, the total cost for this type of intervention would be about $1,400.

Estimates from those involved in the sector indicate the annual cost to the system is typically about $100,000 for each chronically homeless person.

It’s costly because homeless people are less connected citizens.  They are out on their own… disconnected… living on the fringe… and you cannot fight homelessness in the street.
 
You have to start by re-connecting these citizens to the rest of the community and to the support they need. 

Once someone has shelter, we can address the causes of their homelessness.  Those causes may be simple bad luck.  They lost a job and couldn’t come up with first and last month’s rent.  With stable housing, they can find a job and get back on their feet.  

Alcohol and drug use are rampant on the streets.  We need to get addicts out of that environment and connect them with appropriate social services.  

If the cause is mental illness, we can’t abandon people to the streets and close our eyes while they fend for themselves.

We need to get them into a safe environment and connect them with medical services that can help them.

Ottawa’s Leadership Table on Homeless has done the math – and concluded that it is actually five times cheaper AND more effective to provide chronically homeless people with a stable, permanent home and a full suite of social services.
 
The cost of putting a chronically homeless person in permanent supportive housing is about $1,500 a month, or $15,000 t0 $20,000 a year.

We can save money – lots of it – and achieve much better outcomes.

So, what stands in our way to using this approach?  

We don’t have the housing stock we need to serve the chronically homeless.
We don’t have the social services support needed to support the chronically homeless.
Public, private and non-profit landlords need better support. 
Government support and other funding are inadequate -- and they are not designed to serve this model.
Finally, public perceptions need to change.

Sometimes the challenges are daunting – but we are in the hope business.

The Leadership Table provided a practical blueprint to move us forward.
 
It has three core strategies:

First: Provide a permanent, stable home for every chronically homeless person.

We will do that by creating 100 suitable housing units each year; by creating a fund to support renovations by landlords; and by advocating provincial and federal funding for affordable housing.
 
Second: We will connect chronically homeless people with appropriate social services, and work with our Federal and Provincial partners to align programs and secure funding dollars. 

Third: We will build greater public awareness about chronic homelessness and engage our community in helping to provide housing and support.  

We are confident that the more the public knows about the economics of fighting homelessness, the more support we will have for this lower cost, more effective approach.

Some of these strategies rely on the support of other governments, our fellow municipalities, social agencies, and associations like AMO.

I’m nearing the end of my two year term as President of AMO, but I’m pleased to say that throughout it, AMO has been a strong advocate for change.

AMO has achieved two major successes in that time – both of which are central to the Joint Fiscal Review that it completed with the Province in late 2008.

The Review provides a blueprint to shift social service costs off of the municipal property tax base – so that we can focus on our core municipal responsibilities.

These uploads are scheduled over a period of 10 years, but in most cases, urban communities have already benefited from significant uploads – particularly when it comes to costs related to ambulance services, the Ontario Drug Benefit and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Secondly, the Review committed the Province to working with municipalities to reform the funding of social services – with an eye toward achieving better outcomes and measuring performance on that basis.

That has created the opportunity to create programs and services that support a housing first strategy.

In addition, given that we are working together, we are in a stronger position to engage our Federal partners.

Ottawa has created a 10 year plan to end homelessness and AMO is working to create conditions that will help us succeed.

To quote the Leadership Table’s report, “No magic solutions exist. But practical strategies for far more effective progress are within reach.”

I’m not Philip Mangano, but if any of you have been inspired by this story, I would be very happy to share any information that will help your community explore what we are doing and how we are doing it.

Again, that is what this conference is all about – inspiring you to consider new ideas and find solutions to your community’s challenges. 

Your conference package includes information about other conferences and training opportunities that AMO is hosting in the coming months.  Please a moment to review those – and by all means, make suggestions on any other topics that you would like to see us focus on.

AMO is your municipal association.  And we are only as strong as you make us.  Your support and your interest in this conference are appreciated.

Enjoy the symposium.