A homelessness expert who helped to reduce New York City’s street homeless population by nearly half is in Ottawa Friday to share his experiences and views with the United Way.

Commissioner of the New York City Department of Homeless Services Rob Hess, will be speaking to the Leadership Table on Homelessness – one of United Way’s initiatives with the City of Ottawa – to share experiences from his city’s housing-first philosophy.

Research widely accepted across North America has shown that the chronically homeless cost the system more money in shelter, policing and medical costs than it would to get them in their own homes and to get a support system in place.


“There is a strong economic argument to be made,” said Michael Allen, president and CEO of United Way Ottawa.

“Obviously, the City of Ottawa is not New York… but we feel this is something we could learn from.”

Under the leadership of Hess, New York City’s street homeless population – people who call the street their home – was reduced 47 per cent from 4,395 people to 2,328 between 2005 and 2009.

One of the big things that Hess will discuss is how streamlined services have helped the situation in New York, as well as the process of becoming streamlined.

While Ottawa’s service providers for the homeless are doing a good job, they can make a bigger difference if they work together as a coherent group, Allen said.

“And that’s what’s missing here in Ottawa. That really is one of the characteristic differences (between) what we saw in New York and what we saw here,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that the 50-odd agencies that deal with the homeless here in Ottawa don’t do great work… But we could work better if we work together.”