Ottawa EMC: Red tents occupy Parliament Hill

Oct 28th, 2010 by James Rubec in the Ottawa EMC

EMC News - Affordable housing advocates are set up red tents on Parliament Hill on Tuesday, Oct. 19, to highlight the need for a federal housing strategy and the growing concern about homelessness across the country.

The demonstrations came on the eve of the final debate in the House of Commons on Bill C-304, an NDP bill that would commit Ottawa to drafting a plan that would address the housing issue.

Before this third and final reading, the Bloc Quebecois had been dragging its heels, choosing to leave Quebec out of the plan. However on Wednesday, they changed their minds and the plan had to be sent back to committee and adjusted. A date for a final vote is now up in the air, but advocates are optimistic about the bill's future.

"Our members and members of other organizations worked on an aggressive letter writing campaign. It looks like it made a difference," said Jill O'Reilly the head organizer for the Ottawa branch of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). "There will be adjustments to the bill but this is looking great."


The bill, introduced by NDP MP Libby Davies (Vancouver East) in February 2009, would force Ottawa to work with the provinces, municipalities and aboriginal communities to develop a national housing strategy that ensures shelter costs do not compromise people's basic needs, including food, clothing and access to education.

The bill passed second reading a year ago with unanimous support from the NDP, Liberals and Bloc.

As many as 300,000 Canadians are homeless and about 1.5 million tenant households pay more than 30% of pre-tax income on shelter.

The issue in Ottawa is particularly bad.

"I have a roommate, we share a two-bedroom apartment, I pay about $500 a month for rent, which is what ODSB gives me. I'm barely getting by," said Jeff Smithson. A couple of years ago, Smithson left work on stress leave and with a condition that required a pair of surgeries. He now lives on Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSB). "Without a roommate my life wouldn't be possible right now."

Smithson and other Ottawa ACRON members participated in the Red Tent demonstration and in the campaign to lobby for Quebec's support.

"Things are hard. I have to make the choice between food and paying bills. I made the choice of having a Thanksgiving dinner and because of that I'm behind on a bill. It is hard to catch up," said Smithson.

Last year there were 7,500 homeless people in Ottawa, 1,317 are children. There are 10,000 households on the waitlist for Ottawa Community Housing.

Bill C-304 would have funds that would be attached to housing in local areas. This would reallocate some funds from mortgage and housing into social programs and would make access to housing be an important part of our social fabric.

"Right now all levels of government are trying to work on the problem, but not together.

Canada is the only country in the G8 that doesn't have a national housing strategy," said Marion Wright, chair of the Alliance to End Homelessness in Ottawa.

The G8 is made up of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

"If we do nothing more than what we're doing right now to address homeless, the cost to shelter alone will double in the next 10 years. Most of these people will be children and families."

Wright explained that there is a shortage of affordable rental housing. This lack of housing has caused people to extend their stay in shelters. For a family in a shelter the average stay is 64 days.

"We'd like to see that number go down to 30 days for families. That should be enough time to find housing and get out of the shelter. Right now, families can't find appropriate housing in any timely fashion," said Wright.

For someone on the waiting list on the margins who has to choose between food or bills, new housing is a dream.

"I'm on a wait list for Ottawa Housing, but I've been told that it could be five years," said Smithson.

Protesting along side the roughly 100 Ottawa residents were students from the University of Western Ontario and King's College who are taking social justice and peace studies.

"We believe that housing is a human right, and we stand in solidarity with ACORN and anyone fighting for housing in Ottawa, Ontario and Canada," said Dan Hammond, who was with four other students from King's College.

"Housing is an issue for students too. Some of us are affluent enough to be able to afford living in apartments but a lot of us can't. We're going deep in debt, going to food banks - all of this while we are just trying to learn," said Hammond.

After a study of the 2006 census, the Social Planning Council of Ottawa found that 26% of youth aged 15 to 24 lived on low income before tax in 2005. This number gets worse when young people are living on their own. Of 15-24 year olds not living with their families in 2005, 70.2% are living on a low income.

"Students who live on a low income are much more likely to drop out of school," said Hammond.

To learn more about bill C-304, and poverty in Ottawa, visit

The original article is available at: