City council approves winter response program set to support Londoners facing homelessness

File photo. Graham Hughes/ The Canadian Press Images

London city council has unanimously approved an emergency response plan to support those facing homelessness during the winter months.

The Winter Response Program for Unsheltered Individuals seeks to respond to added pressures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s set to add 60 overnight shelter spaces, with the option to expand those spaces if such an expansion can be staffed. Overnight spaces will offer a place to rest and access basic needs and support.

The additional overnight spaces, which can also be used during the day, will be split between two locations: one at the T-Block at 652 Elizabeth Street and the other at an unnamed privately owned parking lot in downtown London.

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“I’ve certainly heard from a lot of folks both positive and (concerns) about what is being proposed, especially around McMahen Park (652 Elizabeth Street),” said Ward 4 Councillor Jesse Helmer.

“I will say that people fall in three categories: people who are really against the idea of having something located that close to where they live, people who are okay with it (as) long as it’s temporary, and people who think it’s a very good idea.”

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The spaces will be provided through heated temporary structures enclosed by construction fencing and will provide access to washrooms, showers and laundry services.

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The program also seeks to open up two city buildings for 60 additional day spaces, which are “focused on providing a warm space for individuals to get out of the cold, access basic needs and build a sense of community,” according to the report.

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The 60 spaces will be split between the Hamilton Road Seniors Centre and the Dundas Place Field House.

City staff and volunteers will be on site during the operating hours of both the day spaces and the overnight shelter spaces.

The anticipated cost of the program is pegged at just under $975,000 by the end 2020 and about $1.3 million in 2021.

Acting director of housing, social services and Dearness Home, Kevin Dickins, says the program aims to help about 120 people.

“Our winter plan (is) not going to provide 120 beds, but it is a piece of the puzzle,” said Dickins.

“This is not going to be something that solves homelessness in London this year, it will be something that is in place for the winter months, probably through until close to the end of April.”

London currently has 200 shelter spaces, 122 hotel rooms and 15 resting spaces available for unsheltered individuals.

Dickins says they hope to have all of additional the spaces up and running before the end of December.

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— With files from 980 CFPL’s Andrew Graham

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