Ottawa council declares homelessness a national disaster in

Tom Boland (
Fri, 6 Nov 1998 05:15:23 -0400

  Thursday, November 5, 1998

  SOS sent for local homeless

  Council strikes at program cuts

                 By KATHLEEN HARRIS, Ottawa Sun
    HOMELESSNESS has been declared a national disaster in Canada's capital.

  After often-emotional debate yesterday, Ottawa council backed the
resolution to
  declare the state of cold, hungry and desperate people on the street a
  disaster. Council will help lobby the federal and provincial governments
to take
  steps to address the problem.

  Coun. Diane Deans said she is "sickened" by the collapse of Canada's
social safety
  net and abject poverty caused by right-wing governments. Reading from a
  from the Social Planning Council of Ottawa-Carleton, she said there have
been 40
  deaths of people who lived in the streets recorded in the last two years.

  And, since the information relies on various agencies for reporting,
those figures
  are likely lower than the number of actual deaths.

  Coun. Elisabeth Arnold called it "heart-breaking and enraging" that
people have
  been forced to live off the charity of strangers.

  In an impassioned plea for support, Arnold said there has been a "massive
  increase" in the number and types of people without homes. Cancelled housing
  programs, cuts to mental health and slashed social assistance have all
played a role
  in putting people out on the streets, and while shelters become more
  waiting lists for social housing are skyrocketing, she said.

  Coun. Stephane Emard-Chabot said Canada no longer takes care of its needy
-- a
  characteristic that he said once defined the country and set it apart
from the People
  are being forced to live in "dehumanizing conditions," he said.

  During a typical Saturday trip to the Byward Market, Emard-Chabot said he
  encounters at least a dozen people begging on the streets.

  Coun. Allan Higdon agreed that homelessness is a chronic problem that
  longer-term solutions.

  Ask the people living on Ottawa-Carleton's streets what is needed to prevent
  homelessness and they say: Jobs and affordable housing.

  Tim Rothgordt, who spends his nights under a bridge near the Westin
Hotel, said
  he has seen many men and women die in the 22 years he has been living on the

  Rothgordt said affordable housing is hard to find, particularly because
he has a
  dog. When it gets too cold to stay outside, he stays with friends.

  Many who end up dead can't take care of themselves, he said.

  "They show up here to sleep without sleeping bags and you can get
sleeping bags
  anywhere," said the 43-year-old. "They don't look after themselves."

  Many have a mental disability that isn't looked after, Rothgordt
  Add alcohol to the mix and there's little hope.

  Another man, J.P. Pelletier from Montreal, said he was skeptical about
  claims that they want to attack the problem of homelessness.

  "Who's going to change anything for us?" he asked, a grin on his face.
"Who and

  Pelletier said he's been going from job to job for three years.

  "People are dying in the streets, and not just here -- it's everywhere,"
he said.
  "Give people jobs. Help them. Help them."

  Mayor Jim Watson agrees that declaring homelessness a disaster won't
solve the
  problem in itself -- but it may act as a catalyst for a resolution.

  "It puts it on the agenda," he said, referring to a Toronto media report
that said the
  federal government is considering a cabinet committee to explore urban
issues and
  homelessness. The committee would co-ordinate plans by various ministers to
  battle homelessness.

  Toronto council has also declared homelessness a national disaster.


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