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Council voted to declare the emergency on Wednesday. Photo: Marta Kierkus/The Fulcrum

Motion brought by Catherine McKenney, city councillor for Somerset ward

City council voted unanimously on Wednesday to declare an affordable housing and homelessness emergency, making Ottawa the first Canadian city to do so.

Catherine McKenney, city councillor for Somerset ward and council’s liaison for housing and homelessness, brought the motion.

Hundreds of people gathered in front of city hall on a chilly morning to rally for the motion before the council meeting kicked off.

“The temperature today is -23 C — imagine the 100 people sleeping on the street tonight,” said Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King, who seconded the motion. 

Inside of city hall, councillors debated the motion, with some taking issue over its wording. 

Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder put forward an amendment to change “emergency” to “ongoing critical and urgent crisis,” but later retracted the amendment. 

McKenney won full support in a unanimous 20-0 vote.

“In the next week, I am meeting with Minister (of Families, Children, and Social Development Ahmed) Hussen to discuss federal funding for affordable housing in Ottawa,” Watson said after the vote. “We are all deeply concerned about the state of homelessness in our nation’s capital.”

According to the notice of the motion from December, there were over 12,000 households waiting for community housing as of June 2019, up by 14.8 per cent from 2017. 

About 92 people in Ottawa sleep outside every night, according to the website supporting the motion. Meanwhile, almost 600 people have lived in shelters for more than 18 months.