As we draw closer to the 2019 CAEH Conference, Options Bytown is excited to share two of our recently-implemented housing loss prevention initiatives: Buried in Treasures and the Housing Outreach Program. 

An Ottawa-based non-profit, Options Bytown provides permanent housing with on-site supports to people experiencing homelessness. We help some of the most vulnerable people in our community who don’t have a home get and stay housed through our supportive housing, Housing First, and resource centre programs along with the aforementioned Buried in Treasures and the Housing Outreach Program.

As per A New Direction: A Framework for Homelessness Prevention (Gaetz & Dej, 2017), working to prevent homelessness “also means providing those who have been homeless with the necessary resources and supports to stabilize their housing, enhance integration and social inclusion, and ultimately reduce the risk of the recurrence of homelessness.” We know prevention is a key part of the solution to ending homelessness, and that these efforts are a more cost-effective choice since they reduce the expense of providing emergency shelter, food, etc. in the event someone does lose their housing.

In our case, our Buried in Treasures program focuses specifically on outreach to those with hoarding behaviours, while the Housing Outreach Program works primarily with co-op members.

Buried in Treasures

Buried in Treasures is a peer-led workshop program aiming to address and reduce hoarding behaviour for participants. Local housing and housing loss prevention programs in Ottawa have identified a severe gap in affordable and appropriate supports for people living with hoarding behaviours. 

Unfortunately, this often poses a health and safety risk for buildings as a whole:

  • Hoarding of food can attract pests to the unit, while items piled to the ceiling can interfere with the structural integrity of an apartment. 
  • Hoarding behaviours therefore often result in eviction and housing loss. 

The gap in available services for those living with hoarding behaviour disproportionately affects people who are low-income and otherwise marginalized, as hoarding is often a response to coping with stress and trauma. Options Bytown therefore offers Buried in Treasures at no fee to service users. Each week of the 16-week workshop series focusses on a different applicable skill, and is led by a facilitator who has previously lived with hoarding behaviour. 

Participation in Buried in Treasures often results in reduced hoarding behaviours and therefore an increase in maintaining stable housing, decrease in mental health issues, and a reduction in the use of more costly interventions like hospitalization or evictions. In fact, Frost et. al (2012) found that “The treatment response rate for the BIT Workshop was similar to that obtained by previous individual and group treatment studies, despite its shorter length and lack of a trained therapist.”

Options Bytown has run two sessions of Buried in Treasures with enthusiastically positive feedback from participants so far. Our third session is currently in progress. 

Housing Outreach Program

With near historically low vacancy rates and a limited supply of new rental units entering the market, the 2019 City of Ottawa Rental Market Analysis found that an additional 25,000 households are projected to be living in unaffordable housing by the year 2031. In these conditions, co-operative housing is more important than ever as it offers an affordable alternative to subsidized housing.

Options Bytown and the Co-operative Housing Association of Eastern Ontario (CHASEO) established an innovative, shared service model known as the the Housing Outreach Program (HOP) in 2018. HOP provides services to 49 co-ops and 3 non-profit housing providers, offering tenants supports to address issues that may be putting their tenancies at risk.

Supports provided range from conflict mediation to mental health counselling, addressing hoarding behaviours, and more.  HOP makes referrals and advocates for tenants while also educating and supporting the co-op or housing providers to support their tenants in maintaining their housing. In the worst-case scenario, if eviction is unpreventable, HOP also assists members to find alternative housing and prevent people from (re-)entering the cycle of homelessness.