Western University students skipping FOCO; at least 1 Broughdale Avenue resident overjoyed

Mayor Ed Holder says the city is mainly focusing its monitoring efforts on Broughdale Avenue, a neighbourhood near Western University that often saw heavy partying around this time of year before the COVID-19 pandemic. Andrew Graham / Global News

Broughdale Avenue’s favourite grandma is thrilled with Western University students deciding not to participate in “fake homecoming” (FOCO) this year in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Bess Srachulek, known affectionately to many in London, Ont., as the “Broughdale Grandma”, told Global News it was a welcome surprised to not have to leave her home this year.

“This is the first time in a few years that I am actually at my house at this hour, so I didn’t leave, so I was very happy.”

The first FOCO came in 2016 in response to Western University administration pushing back official Homecoming celebrations to late October. The revised Homecoming date is a time when students often deal with exams, and the move aimed to curb unsanctioned street parties.

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Broughdale Avenue is a popular street filled with student housing, which London police estimate had around 25,000 students in 2019.

Police footage of the Broughdale Avenue area at around 1:46 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, during FOCO celebrations. Supplied photo / London Police Service

Past FOCO celebrations have seen dozens of hospitalizations, packed streets and policing costs totalling upwards of $300,000.

This year’s celebrations, though, have been relatively subdued, with London police saying the day began quiet and with no known health infractions.

In years past, Srachulek has had to leave her home the night before partying for her own safety and says London police were on hand to help her relocate if things got out of hand.

The 90-year-old has lived in the post-war home since 1960 and said given the increase in coronavirus cases among students, she was happy they did not flood the streets with people like in years past.

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At least 39 people at Western University have tested positive for COVID-19 since classes began.

Over the years, Srachulek has dealt with vandalism, students destroying her garden, and wrecking her roof from climbing on it as a result of homecoming and FOCO celebrations.

“To be able to look out my window and see the police gone, the street not loaded with all this purple, no damage, no foolishness — it’s a treat beyond heaven,” she said.

Const. Sandasha Bough said by phone that officers were on the streets near the university.

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As of shortly after noon on Saturday, she said only small outdoor gatherings had been observed.

City bylaw officers, who enforce gathering limits of 25 people outdoors and 10 indoors, were also patrolling the streets, Bough said.

Over the last few days, social media posts from the city have reminded people of possible fines up to $10,000 for hosting a large gathering and $750 for attending.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit has also been speaking directly to students on social media in the days leading up to the expected festivities.

On Friday, a Twitter post from the public health unit thanked students for their adherence to health guidelines since outbreaks among students were reported earlier this month. It also asked them to spread the word to their peers.

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“We’ve been impressed with the efforts of the (Western) students who have helped limit the spread of COVID-19 recently,” the post reads. “You’ve stayed away from big gatherings & parties, kept physical distance, worn your masks & kept your social circles small.”

City Councillor for Ward 6 Phil Squire said the lack of students is a welcome sight but also not a surprise.

“I felt students were going to be responsible today, given everything that’s going on with COVID, but I am still very grateful.”

Squire said he thinks after the recent outbreak of cases among students, he thinks they really understand how important not gathering in a large group is this year.

“They need to show they were apart of our community and do what the rest of our community is doing by being responsible, and they have come through today, so I am really happy.”

With files from Andrew Graham Global News and The Canadian Press

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