It’s a pleasure to be here with you this morning I see a lot of familiar faces and good friends, many of whom I have had the chance to work with over the years. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today about one of the challenges our City faces that is closest to my heart. I’ve been involved in tackling the complex and difficult problem of homelessness throughout my entire career in public service.

First in 1991 as a board member of City Living then as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. As Minister, I was honoured to sign the largest Federal-Provincial Housing agreement in Ontario’s history. In total, $1.2 billion flowed into Ontario communities to help build and repair thousands of affordable housing units. Doing something about homelessness is not just a file for me. It is not just another check box in my platform. Doing something about our homelessness problem is something that moves me – something that drew me to public service in the first place.

So as I look out around this room I see friends in a common cause. There is simply nothing more difficult for me than to think of a child going to bed unsure of where they will sleep the next night – without a roof and room and place to call home. There is nothing more heart breaking to me than to think of the struggle of a mother or father unable to provide that protection and stability. I am moved to do something to fight for those trying to set their lives right, deal with addiction or mental health issues or financial distress, to get the dignity of home back in their lives.

The face of homelessness is unique in every city in Canada. Ottawa is no different, in that it is different here. We have our own network of social housing providers, shelters, organizations building new affordable housing and people providing support for the homeless. And that network faces challenges and opportunities unique to Ottawa. To face those challenges we need to work together with energy, passion and knowledge. We need to apply resources and do so strategically in a constantly changing environment. We need to be smart about making the biggest difference in Ottawa for those who need our help urgently.

Now as many of you will know our City Budget was tabled on Wednesday. I was honoured by my colleagues with the responsibility of starting our budget deliberations with an intelligent and balanced plan. A plan that respected the effect higher taxes can have on keeping a home while doing more to help people who are without a home.

A caring community – that was a major theme of the Budget I tabled.

Now I know that some have written since that the budget poured more money “into the bottomless pit of social spending.” But let me just say plainly – I disagree. Building out city means balance and it means turning our back on that kind of cynicism. I was proud that the Budget set a strong financial foundation and looked to eliminate waste. But I am equally proud that the Budget brought new resources and focus to protecting our children.

We set aside $300,000 in base funding to help with children and youth facing mental health crisis and at risk for suicide. We’ll be doing that by funding the Youth Services Bureau’s new mental health drop in clinic, allowing it to open three days a week instead of just one. We’ll also be coming to the table on the already united efforts of the YSB, CHEO, the Royal Ottawa and direct community service providers helping children, families and youth in crisis.

I am also especially proud to have put in place significant new resources for us to work with in addressing homelessness and poverty. In the Budget we provided two key envelopes that I promised during the campaign. First, we have set out a $10 million annual allocation in the operating budget to be dedicated to fighting homelessness and poverty. This is not one-time money, but funds built into our city’s base budget.

Second, we have set aside each of the next four years new capital funding for building new housing and renovating existing units; totalling $4 million a year from the capital budget. Those funds will give us the foundation to work together to make a difference. I will be actively working with Councillor Peter Hume, Chair of Planning – who now has responsibility for housing policy; Mark Taylor, our new Chair of Community and Protective Services who has lead on social services and Deputy Mayor Steve Desroches our new Ottawa Community Housing Chair.

We will engage with you and our city staff to put forward to Council a strong plan for this money- focused on making the biggest difference we can.We have pressing needs.

A few realities we face in Ottawa bring this home:

– The length of stays in shelters is increasing overall

– The number of homeless youth is increasing

– Larger families that lose their homes have been facing very long stays because there are not enough large social housing units

– Our wait list is now over 10,000 men and women waiting for affordable housing

We have real challenges. But we are also coming together with new and renewed collaboration. We have begun to work around a common table to produce a more integrated approach. I look forward to results from the strong new working group that is aimed at integrating common effort to achieve common goals.

I want to thank:

– Sue Garvey from Cornerstone

– Dan Sabourin from YSB

– Jim Devoe from Caldwell

– Marion Wright of CMHA

– Ray Sullivan from CCOC

– Our own Jo-Anne Poirier of Ottawa Community Housing

– Val Hinsperger of Nepean Housing

– John Dickie from the Ontario Landlords Association

– Ishbel Solvason from Ottawa social housing network

– Karen Sexsmith of Cooperative Housing Association

– Lorraine Bentley of Options By Town for coming together with Janice and Stephen at the City for this important collaborative work

Instead of working in silos we are coming together around more systems thinking so we not only get people out of the cold and into a home, but we keep them moving forward to a better life. That can mean counselling, mental health support, help with addictions, being there for women fleeing abuse. It also means moving people from shelters at times of crisis, to stable bases, to homes to call their own – and doing so as a team – with a loving and principled community network.

The Provincial government, of which I was a part, is giving us new flexibility. We recognized that undue focus on rules and programs was costing us. We faced up to the fact that years of bureaucratic strings were tying people’s hands. Instead of losing $43 of provincial support for someone in a shelter when we succeed in moving them out of crisis, we’ll be able to keep the support in an overall envelope. This will allow us to keep individuals moving forward from crisis to stability.

I am proud to have been part of showing that new flexibility. And I am excited about making the most of it now that I am back to help lead our City as Mayor. I look forward to working with you to strengthen and build on a team approach. Together with you, over the next year we will build an integrated Housing System Plan. It will, for the first time, set out our common objectives and our united route to achieving those results.

You in this room, will be central to fashioning that plan. You in this room – the work you do – will animate that plan and give it life. Together we will take advantage of the local control we’re being given to get better results.

Now city government cannot do it all. We have limited resources and we face many demands. We rely almost exclusively on property taxes and fees. So we will need to continue to push the Provincial and Federal government to make investments in housing and renewal. With more than 22,000 housing units already in place, many of which need upgrades, there is going to be more need than we can meet by ourselves.

I will work with you as a champion on this and I will fight by your side to get more investment in housing. We clearly need a National Housing Strategy in Canada, because we are the only country in the G-8 without one. But there are some areas that municipal government actually has some leavers – and ones that can make a real difference.

Affordable rental housing is in short supply in Ottawa. Our rental vacancy rate is very low, about 1.5%, and we are not seeing new affordable rental housing developments coming forward very often. I want to work with you to address that – to do what we can to encourage the development of rental housing throughout the city. The fact is that many people are not at a phase in their lives where they can realistically take on ownership of a house or a condo.

Rental accommodation is an essential part of the housing mix for a healthy city. I believe that by speeding approvals and supporting rental developments, strategically applying capital grants and rent supplements, we can make significant headway here. I look forward to working with you on that and bringing energy along with Peter Hume the Chair of Planning Committee to getting more rental housing built in our community.

So those are some initial thoughts in what I hope will be a four year conversation – a four year collaboration.

I thank you again for inviting me here today to start that conversation. To each of you, in closing, I want to say thank you for what you do. Each of you is involved in helping your fellow human being. On behalf of a grateful city, I thank you for what you do and what you give of yourself to make our City a better place.

Thank you