Carleton expert studies those who are living ‘on the edge’

Associate Geography Prof. Fran Klodawsky uses her research skills to shine a light on Ottawa’s housing crisis.

As an associate professor of geography, Fran Klodawsky spends a lot of her time looking beyond Canada’s borders and at issues that affect people.

But really, she need not look further than her own backyard for genuine stories of struggle.

In 2008, there were 7,045 people using Ottawa’s shelters and thousands of others on the edge; living in poverty and fighting to keep their homes and families together.

“Some people try to hide (it),” says Klodawsky, who has researched issues related to affordable housing and homelessness since the mid-1980s. “There is a lot of shame . . . but it certainly is a wide range of people.”

With a vast amount of well-paying, secure government jobs, Ottawa is often considered to be insulated from a lot of the economic turmoil that continues to pummel other city centres. This rosy outlook only serves to mask the real story, says Klodawsky.

The real story is that the numbers are grim.

The city is host to about 9,000 low-income families or individuals who are registered with the social housing registry and are waiting for access to affordable housing.

“Ottawa doesn’t experience ups and downs in terms of economic trends,” she says, “but there is a significant poor population.”

Klodawsky, together with a colleague at the University of Ottawa and in partnership with the Alliance To End Homelessness, recently studied a sample of Ottawa’s homeless population, discovering that about half claimed eviction and an inability to pay rent as their prime reasons for being homeless. Alcohol and drug abuse accounted for just eight per cent.

“The homeless are homeless because of a crisis,” says Klodawsky. It’s really as simple as not finding enough money “to make things work.”

To make matters worse, she says, there hasn’t been much progress. A lack of government funding continues to keep some of the most disenfranchised people from gaining long-term stability.

The good news is that over the course of the three-year study period, most participants managed to find a home — 97 per cent of families, 75 per cent of single women and 47 per cent of single men. Only a small percentage of people are “chronically homeless.”

And Klodawsky isn’t done. She’s currently involved in a research project following homeless adults in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver and looking for a link between housing and health.

“It’s a chicken or egg scenario,” she says. “Do people have (housing issues) because they’re sick or do they get sick because they have (housing issues)?

“If you have access to stable housing you can do quite well, although some people certainly need support services as well.”

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Daniel Reid

By Daniel Reid

Whether it’s scientific breakthroughs, political manoeuvres or loaded technical jargon, Daniel Reid loves to untangle complex ideas to make them accessible to everyone. He is currently an editor at @newsrooms and is a former web editor at @CTVNews and homepage editor at @TheLoopCA. You can argue with him on Twitter at @ahatrack.

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