London, Ont. winter response to homelessness plan gets approval to move onto council

The health unit reminds Londoners to dress warmly and cover exposed skin if spending time outside Thursday evening in order to reduce the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Getty Images

After some debate around the locations of London’s winter response to homelessness plan, city council’s community and protective services committee (CPSC) approved the proposal.

On Tuesday night, councillors discussed the 2021 to 2022 Winter Response Program for Unsheltered Individuals during the CPSC meeting.

The plan was approved 5-1, with Ward 3 Coun. Mohamed Salih opposed due to the proposed use of the city’s River Road and Fanshawe golf courses.

“I can support everything minus the location. My struggle is I have heard from many people in the community and residents in the area. I myself have tried to go out for a jog. It’s a safety concern and that’s why I can’t support that location,” Salih said.

The Ward 3 councillor noted that with the lack of sidewalks and fast-moving traffic in the area, he is worried for the safety of anyone at the site who may try to go for walk.

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The plan will now move on for final approval by councillors during the Nov. 16 city council meeting.

Kevin Dickins, managing director of housing, social services and Dearness Home, said transportation will be available to those staying at the sites to ensure they will not be isolated and that some resources would even be brought directly to the sites.

“This is not expected to be drop-in or transient in nature, so the amount of foot traffic to and from should be very minimal, if any,” Dickins said.

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The plan will cost an estimated $1.9 million and use a mix of short-term drop-in spaces for up to eight hours, stabilization spaces allowing for a stay of one to three days, and long-term winter shelter options, allowing people to stay up to four months.

The long-term option calls for discreet winter shelters set up at the city’s River Road and Fanshawe golf courses, in addition to the ongoing use of hotel rooms being used for the city’s pandemic response.

The site at River Road will be run at Atlohsa Family Healing Services used for those who identify as Indigenous, with a focus on reconnecting with the land, their culture, and home.

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Ward 2 Coun. Shawn Lewis supports the plan, and compared it to his own experiences working as a foster parent for at-risk youth. “Sometimes the best thing is to break from connections and get a fresh start.”

Lewis said the plan provides an opportunity to go to a location that is not easy to get to and get away from a dealer, pimp or someone else who may be keeping them in a cycle of exploitation.

“When it’s not easy for those people to get to them, they have a better chance of breaking that cycle and getting out of poverty and homeless, and stabilizing and moving on to better chapters.”

This year’s response will also have 10 stabilization beds set up in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Thames Valley Addiction and Mental Health Services at the CMHA’s Hamilton Road location.

The city, along with Ark Aid Street Mission staff and volunteers, will offer a drop-in space for people to get out of the cold with 40 overnight resting spaces and coffee and snacks during the day.

Participation in any of the locations is completely voluntary, and Dickins said the purpose of the temporary shelters set up at the golf courses will be a transitional place to try to get people the help they need to get fully housed.

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“We are not moving or putting people in these locations. We are using our homeless system, the data we have and names list, to match people to the most appropriate site but still offer them a choice,” Dickins said.

If approved, services will be set up and are expected to be fully operational by Dec. 1.

There will be two information sessions for neighbours in the area or other Londoners on Nov. 9 and Nov. 10 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. for those with any questions or concerns regarding the plan.

All the details can be found on the City of London’s Get Involved page on its website.

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