Local advocates excited for 'bold new approach' to London, Ont. homeless plan

Local advocates are excited and hopeful about the City of London’s plans to establish a “permanent and sustainable system” for addressing homelessness.

On Tuesday, during his first state of the city address, Mayor Josh Morgan announced that the “bold new approach” would “mark the end of temporary emergency response programs in London.” The latest emergency response was rolled out this winter.

Additionally, Morgan revealed that a local family, who wishes to remain anonymous, donated $25 million in support of the new system.

While specific details of the plan, including immediate action items, won’t be shared publicly until next month, Jaclyn Seeler, co-chair for the London Homeless Coalition (LHC), said the news shared at the 44th state of the city address is “very exciting.”

“To see the generosity of a family, of a community member really wanting to invest in their own community, and in this very vulnerable population right now, I think it’s also validation for the folks that are sleeping outside right now, (to know) that they’re being seen, and that this crisis is being recognized,” she said.

In his address, Morgan said the $25-million donation is “by no means” the final cost of the system as it’s something that will require ongoing funding and support.

However, the anonymous donors have also offered to donate an additional $5 million in matching funds should that amount be raised by the community.

“As agencies have been working together to solve homelessness, we all know that it’s possible,” Seeler said. “We know that we’re going to need every community invested in this issue, we know that we’re going to need every level of government doing everything they can to embed housing as a human right, and to hear the mayor talk and to have housing and homelessness be a top priority of his, I think, helps us all feel hopeful that going forward, there’s going to be a lot more collaboration and work.”

In the fall of last year, the London Homeless Coalition held a memorial at the Covent Garden Market in honour of the 57 people who had died as a result of homelessness in the city since October 2021.

Deaths, Seeler said, that were all preventable.

In light of this new plan and “in the spirit of collaboration,” she said that “all systems need to work together to truly solve homelessness, both at a local level and at a national level.”

“If we can create a model that works for London, that can help improve those that are sitting here that are either experiencing a housing crisis, and help prevent them from entering homelessness, and of course, help those that are sleeping outside right now, then that’s the plan that we need to see in the plan that we’re hoping to see,” she said.

Dr. Andrea Sereda, a physician with the London InterCommunity Health Centre, has been working on the frontlines of London’s homelessness crisis as an advocate, as well as the lead of the LIHC’s Safer Opioid Supply program.

Some of her recent advocacy involves serving as an organizing committee member of The Forgotten 519, an homelessness advocacy group that arranged a hunger strike last year which brought new attention to the issue.

“I’ve been doing this for over a dozen years now, and I think this is the first time that I’ve heard homelessness and housing options addressed as a key issue in the mayor’s address,” she said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen it talked about really robustly in any campaigns (and) I think this is the first time I’ve seen all sectors of our community, so health and housing, administration within the city and the business community, all come together to address the problem, which I think is really important.

“People aren’t just raising the problems, people are actually coming together to try and form solutions, and that’s unique and new and important to me.”

Last summer, issues impacting those in London’s homeless community made headlines as the advocacy group The Forgotten 519 launched a hunger strike, which was carried out by organizing member Dan Oudshoorn.

His hunger strike ended days later with The Forgotten 519 announcing that, after the third round of talks with the City of London, an agreement had been reached.

Abe Oudshoorn is an associate professor at the school of nursing at Western University. On top of being a local advocate, he also specializes in homeless prevention research.

He said that while many in the community have been “highlighting the rapid growing concerns around homelessness,” seeing the mayor prioritize this makes him “very optimistic that the upcoming strategic planning and the budgeting will also be aligned with really solving this challenge.”

“I think that donation is just such a clear indicator that this isn’t some niche issue (or) a small kind of charitable concern. This is all of London who are anxious, who are concerned, who know that we can do better on the issue of homelessness,” Oudshoorn said.

“I think everyone in London is ready to do their part to change the story here.”

He commended Morgan’s points surrounding the need for affordable housing, saying that “housing is the only answer for solving homelessness long-term.”

However, Oudshoorn said that on a provincial level, “the government of Ontario is simply not doing its part.”

“We can do everything we possibly can within our community. But without that level of funding the province has access to, we’re always going to be working behind,” he added.

But focusing on London alone and what’s to come with this new system, Oudshroon said he, too, sees a “new momentum on ending and preventing homelessness” that he’s never seen before.

According to the city, contributions to the upcoming homelessness plan can be made to The Health and Homelessness Fund For Change, managed by The London Community Foundation.

— With files from Global News’ Andrew Graham.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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