Giguère and Fleury: Housing is more than bricks and mortar, it’s the foundation for vibrant communities

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Saturday, September 3, 2022 marks the 20th year for Ottawa Community Housing. As we reflect on this significant milestone, we celebrate the commitment and collaboration of our collective community.

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It is not lost on us that the word “community” is in the middle of “Ottawa” & “housing.” This word and that theme are why we’re here today, celebrating 20 years of community and affordable housing in our city.

When City Living and Ottawa Housing Authority merged in 2002 to create Ottawa Community Housing, no one expected how visionary that was for those who needed a place to call home. OCH and the 55+ other community and affordable housing providers in Ottawa have the privilege and responsibility as an essential service to make a difference in their communities. The greatest impact comes from the support of community partners, volunteers, staff and the engagement of tenants that have come and gone over the years.

Housing is more than just bricks and mortar; it’s safe, healthy, and inclusive communities. That’s where the OCH Foundation for Healthy Communities, the 16 community houses, social services agencies, all levels of government, front-line staff, volunteers, and over 32,000 tenants at OCH come into play.

Together, they all work to improve lives, create opportunities for those who need them most and break down barriers. Just like concrete keeps a building strong, this network of local resources provides invaluable tools to support tenants. Often, this is facilitated through OCH’s Tenant Support Workers – a team who works to affect lasting positive change by building the capacity of OCH’s most vulnerable and marginalized residents to be successful tenants.

Some of those community tools also come in the form of technology, helping tenants to access the internet.

Take, for example, Connected Canadians, National Capital Freenet, and Rogers. These organizations help provide technology training, access to devices, and low-cost internet services to tenants living in our senior communities. During the pandemic, they were instrumental in helping to bridge the digital divide and reduce social isolation by providing online games and meetups for our seniors and facilitating the distribution of donated digital devices.

Or the Coalition of Community Houses, of which 16 separate organizations offer place-based resources such as bursaries and scholarships, food assistance, homework clubs, job search support and a whole host of other services that help meet the diverse needs of OCHC family communities.

Food insecurity is a significant challenge and is more keenly felt by those living in community and affordable housing, even more so now due to inflation and rising prices. The Ottawa Food Bank, Food for Thought, Ottawa Mission Food Trucks, and other food distribution partners have provided meals and food hampers to address this issue.

In times of crisis, such as the 2018 tornadoes, the COVID-19 pandemic, or the May 2022 derecho storm, our partners have stepped up to the plate more than we could have ever asked for. Mobilized across our communities, these organizations provided flashlights, gift cards, wellness checks, food, and other basic necessities.

Volunteers have been an integral part of this network. Since 2011, over 8,000 volunteers have donated more than 31,000 hours to make a meaningful difference in our communities. This bond signifies a common desire to see our communities thrive and be full members of the broader Ottawa community.

A lot has changed in the past 20 years; however, one important thing remains; our collective commitment and contribution to making a meaningful difference in the lives of our neighbours. Now, more than ever, we must keep that in mind.

Together, we’re building stronger, more resilient communities. And that’s thanks to you, Ottawa.

Stéphane Giguère is the Chief Executive Officer of Ottawa Community Housing. Twitter: @StephaneOCH_LCO

Mathieu Fleury is the city councillor for Rideau-Vanier ward and Chair of the Board of Directors of Ottawa Community Housing. Twitter: @MathieuFleury

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