In 2017, there were 7,530 people sleeping in shelters in Ottawa. This does not include the many others who are not a part of ‘formal’ systems of care, but who may be sleeping directly on the street or staying in other precarious forms of housing. The waiting list for people in need of affordable housing is over 10,000, and we are only mid-way through the City’s 10-Year Plan to end homelessness in our city.

However, the landscape of housing and homelessness is changing rapidly in our community. We are beginning the see the emergence of innovative and promising practices that address housing insecurity and homelessness at a comprehensive systems level.

Core to this is the growing recognition that the social service sector alone cannot solve this crisis. It is increasingly clear that other mainstream systems of care often directly intersect with and even lead to homelessness. In order to achieve our goal of ending homelessness in our city, we need leaders from a variety of sectors (including government, education, business, healthcare, and not-for-profit) who have the ability to see the connections between homelessness and broader economic and social outcomes, and to take collaborative action within their spheres of influence.

A Civic Leadership Series on Housing & Homelessness

To develop and grow this cohort, we need more opportunities for civic leaders to gather, learn, identify and share opportunities for collective action. We are proud to have brought together a group of volunteers to develop a new kind of leadership development program that offers a deep dive into the housing & homelessness ‘system’ and the complexities of funding models, policy landscapes, and best practices from other jurisdictions, and combines it with an experiential component to really understand first-hand the realities on the ground, learning from front-line staff and people who interact with the system on a daily basis. We want participants of this program to think differently about the sector and the issue, and have a new perspective on their role within it and what actions they might take as civic leaders.

We are calling this civic leadership series Linking Leaders, with the inaugural cohort focusing on housing & homelessness. The series will launch on May 12th, 2018 with The Poverty Challenge, a full-day simulation of a “day in the life” of someone experiencing poverty and homelessness who is trying to navigate the social services system. It’s an intense and transformational learning experience, and a catalyst for all of us to think and act as a collective system to help end and prevent homelessness in our city.

Read more about what happened at the Poverty Challenge on, from Hubber and Challenge participate Annabelle Landry, and listen to the interview on CBC Ottawa Morning

After this, a series of workshop sessions will be held in Fall 2018, featuring expert-led walking tours, site visits and guest speakers from other jurisdictions on best practices for preventing and ending homelessness, and will culminate on National Housing Day, November 22, 2018. Find out more and apply to be part of the inaugural cohort at

Collaboration in Action

Earlier this year, Impact Hub Ottawa joined a growing global movement of organizations working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This initiative is part of our programming commitment focused on Goal #11: to make our cities more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. We are proud to be working with a group of dedicated volunteers to make the Poverty Challenge and the Linking Leaders civic leadership series happen. They represent cross-sector leaders and come from organizations ranging from A Way Home Ottawa and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, Initial PR and Shopify, to Carleton University and the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Research on Educational and Community Services (CRECS) – and of course, the founders and lead organizers of the Poverty Challenge. We are grateful for their time, talents, and commitment to a more inclusive and equitable city, and hope that they will inspire you to join us!

Apply for the 2018 Linking Leaders inaugural cohort

This blog includes contributions from Renée Michaud (University of Ottawa) and Kaite Burkholder Harris (Canadian Observatory on Homelessness)



James Chan