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Nearly $2 million in grants approved for London businesses affected by homelessness

If approved, the Downtown BIA will receive $1.6 million, the OEV BIA $500,000, and the Argyle and Hamilton Road BIAs will both receive $125,000 to offset the homelessness crisis. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

One time grants have been approved for four of London’s business improvement associations (BIA) to offset costs due to the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis.

On Tuesday, a staff report to council’s Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee recommended giving the Downtown London BIA $1.2 million and the Old East Village BIA $500,000 to try and mitigate the impact of homelessness.

Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis, supported by Ward 1 Coun. Hadleigh McAlister, put forward two motions to give a grant of $250,000 to the Argyle and Hamilton Road BIAs.

“We also have to recognize that the problem is spreading further down the road in both BIAs, and we need a response there as well,” said Lewis.

Lewis acknowledged that downtown and OEV face the most difficulties when it comes to the homelessness crisis, but said that his east-end ward was also experiencing the same difficulties.

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“Just in the Argyle BIA alone, (there are) 11 hotspots and more than 528 calls to our security service to those hotspots in this year to date, and we still have two months to go.”

Ward 4 coun. Susan Stevenson said that while homelessness is a city wide issue, downtown and OEV are “worlds apart” from the other wards.

“There aren’t teams available to remove all of the encampments and the homeless, it’s just not even possible,” she said. “We are in survival mode. This isn’t about optimal, it’s not about managing the flow. This is about survival.”

She asked her fellow councillors to honour the struggles that businesses in the core areas face and to allocate the money to the BIAs in the most need.

Also included in Lewis and McAlister’s motion was a recommendation that the civic administration reach out to all BIAs in the city of London to invite a representative to sit at the Business Reference Table for the Whole of Community Response to Homelessness.

“This is a whole community response, it’s a community issue. So all of the BIAs should be part of the business reference table,” said McAlister. “They should be at that discussion to be able to have their words be brought to the table and to understand how it is the other BIAs fit into this discussion and how they fit into the initiatives that we’re trying to bring.”

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Both motions passed, with councillors Jerry Pribil and Steve Lehman abstaining. Councillors Anna Hopkins, Steven Hillier, Susan Stevenson, and Sam Trosow voted against.

A third motion for a grant of $125,000 was brought forward by Ward 7 coun. Corrine Rahman for the Hyde Park BIA, but failed to pass.

Once the amendments to add the Argyle and Hamilton Road BIA’s to the funding list passed, the original recommendation to provide just under 1.7 million to the downtown and OEV BIAa passed unanimously.

The grants will come from the Operating Budget Contingency Reserve Fund, which was intended to mitigate any impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council makes a final decision about the committee’s recommendations on Nov. 7.

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