Frequently Asked Questions

What is supportive housing?

Supportive housing is for individuals who have difficulty living independently, people with disabilities, and people who have experienced or are at-risk of homelessness. Supportive housing has integrated onsite supports for residents. All residents sign a lease, pay rent, and have rights under the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act. Supportive housing is available across the City of Ottawa through several nonprofit housing providers, including Shepherds of Good Hope.

What is Housing First?

“Housing First” is an internationally recognized, evidence-based approach to ending homelessness. A key principle to this approach is not requiring individuals to demonstrate they are “ready” for housing. Their housing is not conditional on sobriety or abstinence. Housing First is part of the solution – not the complete solution. It is oriented toward recovery and ensuring individuals can maintain housing through support, and social and community integration.

What support is offered in supportive housing?

A range of support is available, depending on the level of need that residents have. These services are provided to help residents maintain stable housing, and to promote personal growth, dignity, and community inclusion.

Our supportive housing has 24/7 staff, and in most of our programs we partner with Ottawa Inner City Health to increase accessibility to health and wellness services and reduce the workload of the already strained traditional health care system. Together, our multi-disciplinary team assists residents with goal setting and to establish individualized care plans. Examples of support that residents may access include: medication and behavioral plans, meals and snacks, appointments with healthcare specialists and community services, money management, counselling, peer support, activity programming, case management services, and life skills development.

How does someone become a resident of Shepherds of Good Hope supportive housing?

In most cases, individuals become residents through the City of Ottawa’s coordinated access system. A coordinated access system uses a common assessment and prioritization tool to evaluate depth of need and matches individuals who are experiencing homelessness or at-risk of homelessness with support services and housing focused interventions. When Shepherds of Good Hope has a vacant unit at any of our housing programs, we refer to the City’s social housing registry, to identify individuals that would be a good fit for the building based on their needs. The individual will come for a tour, followed by a trial period. If the trial period is successful for both parties, they will sign a lease to become a resident.

What is the opioid crisis?

The term “opioid crisis” refers to the rapid increase in overdose deaths and other serious health harms from the use of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs. A 2019 Health Canada report estimates that one in five Canadians lives with chronic pain, and the Canadian Institute for Health Information reported that in 2018 almost one in eight people were prescribed opioids. Individuals who are prescribed opioids for legitimate health concerns or pain can be at risk of developing a substance use disorder; according to the CDC one in four patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with opioid addiction. Once an individual has a dependence on a substance, they may turn to illicit street drugs to prevent going into withdrawal. This increases danger to individuals due to the toxic drug supply. Click here for a timeline and current data on the opioid crisis in Canada.

What is the toxic drug supply?

The supply of street drugs currently available contains or is laced with fentanyl and/or benzodiazepines, which is significantly increasing overdose deaths. According to Health Canada, fentanyl is 20 to 40 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Street drugs such as heroin, crack and cocaine are often cut with fentanyl to make them more potent, which often causes people to use fentanyl unknowingly. Fentanyl is cut with benzodiazepines to increase the intensity of the high, which further increases the risk of an overdose. According to Government of Canada data there were a total of 40,642 apparent opioid toxicity deaths in Canada between January 2016 and June 2023.

What is harm reduction?

The Ottawa Emergency Shelter Standards defines harm reduction as “both a philosophy and set of practical strategies aimed at reducing the adverse health, social and economic consequences associated with substance use (both legal and illegal) in ways that are non-judgmental and non-coercive.”

Shepherds of Good Hope and Ottawa Inner City Health partner to make harm reduction strategies available across our shelter, drop-in and housing programs. This includes:

  • A housing-based managed alcohol program, designed to stabilize participants’ alcoholism through a medically regulated administration of alcohol
  • Facilitating access to prescribed safer supply programs for individuals using opiates or stimulants
  • Providing clean supplies to people who are using substances
  • Providing access to supervised consumption and treatment services co-located at our shelter, located at 256 King Edward Avenue.
  • Adoption of harm reduction technology in our housing buildings to prevent and respond to overdoses

While the term usually refers to reducing harms associated with substance use, most people have adopted other harm reduction practices in their lives to reduce risk of activities that are known to carry danger. Commonly practiced examples include seatbelts, helmets, hunter orange, and condoms.

What is safer supply?

Safer supply is a public health and harm-reduction approach which provides prescribed medications as a safer alternative to highly-toxic illegal street drugs for people who are at high risk of overdose. The treatment is overseen by a healthcare provider, with the goal of preventing overdoses and saving lives. Safer supply is not linked to particular location or service provider – it is based on a personal prescription and is therefore available to individuals who are known to be frequent users, whether they are experiencing homelessness, live in supportive housing, market rental housing or in a private home. A 2023 Safer Supply Ottawa Program Evaluation shows decreased or discontinued fentanyl use, improved mental health, and a decrease in overdose events. More information on safer supply can be found at the Government of Canada’s website.

What is Naloxone?

Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It comes in two forms, an easy-to-use nasal spray and an intramuscular injection. It cannot be used improperly and does not have any negative consequences if administered to someone not suffering from an opioid overdose. If you are the first person to discover an opioid overdose, call 911, and administer naloxone if you have it. Signs of an overdose are not breathing, blue lips or nails, can’t be woken up, choking, gurgling, or snoring sounds. In Ontario, naloxone is available for free through public health units, at local pharmacies, community agencies, shelters, transitional housing programs, outreach programs, and withdrawal management programs.

What should I do if I find a needle?

If you come across a needle do not pick it up. City staff respond to requests for needle retrieval anywhere in the city with a priority response time. Residents can request this service by calling 3-1-1. In addition, Shepherds of Good Hope will respond to pick up needles, pipes or related material within a one block radius of our buildings.

How do you support people looking to stop using substances?

While abstinence is not a requirement of any of our programs, some of our residents identify it as a goal. For individuals looking to stop using substances, we provide peer support, counselling, appointment scheduling and connections to support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, and clinical measures such as opioid agonist treatment (OAT). OAT uses medications such as methadone to prevent harsh withdrawals and lower cravings for opioids. Over the years, SGH has had many residents achieve abstinence.

I don’t want to call the police on someone who is marginalized or vulnerable, what should I do?

We often hear this concern and compassion from community members. It’s true that over-involvement of police can be harmful to individuals in need and is not always effective. However, sometimes the best thing that can be done for someone suffering from poor mental health or psychosis is to involve the police so that the person can receive help. Police and medical professionals have very specific situations where they can detain someone due to poor mental health or order someone to be assessed. Shepherds of Good Hope works collaboratively with Ottawa Police Services and other emergency services while respecting our residents’ right to privacy. If you witness a crime or believe someone to be a danger to themselves or others, please call the police.

Why are emergency services at Shepherds of Good Hope buildings?

We work collaboratively with emergency services to provide the best possible quality of care for our residents. There are several reasons OPS, EMS, or OFS may be on-site at a Shepherds building. At our housing programs, emergency services may be responding to a medical or mental health emergency, to remove a visitor who have been trespassed from the building, or because a resident placed a call. At our shelter, many of the visits from emergency services are actually to bring individuals in for medical care and supervision from the team of nurses, client care workers and staff at the Targeted Engagement and Diversion program, freeing up resources in hospitals and other clinical settings.

How can I get involved or learn more?

We are always looking for volunteers and community supporters. We have volunteer opportunities across the city in all our housing programs and in our downtown community kitchen. If you would like to learn more about volunteering with us, please If you are interested in a tour of one of our supportive housing buildings, please visit the Request a Tour page on our website.