The pandemic has changed the way social services are delivered in the city, and Anglican Diocese of Ottawa day programs are poised to play a key supporting role.
“What we do really well is helping people remain stable, so they are able to maintain their housing,” says Rachel Robinson, executive director of the day programs, Centre 454, The Well and St. Luke’s Table.
This supportive role—providing food, showers, guidance—accounts for 80 percent of the staff’s time and energy. “These are people with a lot of challenges and they need a lot of support,” Robinson says.
The City of Ottawa closed one of three Respite Centres, set up with pandemic funding, in August and two others are scheduled to close. They provided a full range of services to both the precariously housed and the homeless.
The closures put the focus back on community providers like the day programs. The city’s response has been to set up “service hubs,” the first of which has opened on Catherine Street.
The hub offers help in navigating the social services system but relies on community providers for basic needs like food, showers and cots to rest.
The hub routinely refers clients to the day programs, and they have the experience and facilities to respond. Renovations at St. Luke’s to install showers and expand the kitchen were completed last year. The showers and the kitchen are in constant use today. The same is true of “respite cots” at St. Luke’s, St. Alban’s and The Well.
The current arrangement which is still evolving is badly needed but it’s not solving the underlying problem of poverty, Robinson says. The real solution is more very low-barrier housing and supports to keep the people housed.
There’s no way a person can survive on Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program, she says. “You can’t afford housing. You can’t eat.”
She sees a need for low-barrier housing, run on a not-for-profit basis. “Let’s try to be hopeful and positive that we can achieve this in the coming years.”
The day programs work closely with the Somerset West Community Health Centre, which does extensive research on housing need in the city.
The combined staff of the three programs has remained stable at 30 throughout the pandemic.
But every member of the staff has contracted COVID, and Robinson says it has slowed their capacity to deliver services.
Meal service has been maintained, with St. Luke’s cooking 100 breakfasts daily and receiving another 100 from Food for Thought, an agency created in 2019 to deal with food insecurity. The Well has continued to produce about 60 breakfasts and lunches daily for its clientele of women and children.