City officials meeting with ‘The Forgotten 519’ on Thursday as hunger strike continues

Dan Oudshoorn's campsite as seen on day two of the outreach worker's hunger strike for The Forgotten 519. Andrew Graham / Global News

For the London, Ont., outreach worker who is on a hunger strike just outside of city hall, it’s now a matter of wait and see as his colleagues get set to meet with city officials on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Dan Oudshoorn began his hunger strike on behalf of The Forgotten 519, a group of front-line workers that looks to stem a rising tide of deaths among Londoners experiencing homelessness.

Since January, there have been 27 local deaths among people “who were deprived of housing or who were housed with a history of homelessness,” according to the London Homeless Coalition.

Read more: ‘Not in our name’: Homelessness advocacy group launches hunger strike at London City Hall

Accompanying’s Oudshoorn strike are three demands from The Forgotten 519 aimed at the City of London:

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  • Halt the removal of encampments, tents, campsites or squats in city parks along the Thames Valley Parkway and in empty city lots.
  • Change the role of the city’s Coordinated Informed Response (CIR) team “from a displacement model, to a team that offers meaningful support … to campers at their campsites.”
  • Create two indoor spaces providing round-the-clock, seven-day support to those deprived of housing and shelter or in need of a safe place.

“Things overnight were pretty peaceful,” Oudshoorn says from his tent, which has been set up on top of a small patch of grass right next to city hall.

“I was able to sleep a little bit more than I thought I would.”

Dan Oudshoorn sits inside the tent near City Hall where he will carry out a hunger strike on behalf of The Forgotten 519. Andrew Graham / Global News

Thursday’s meeting, which was arranged by the City of London, will include a third-party facilitator. It’s an encouraging sign for Oudshoorn, but he adds that The Forgotten 519 have been clear in what they want.

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“The Forgotten 519 isn’t just looking for more words. We are looking for implementation of actions. This is what’s going to change things — action being taken,” Oudshoorn said. “There’ll be a lot more to say and do once we get the results of the meeting.”

In the meantime, Oudshoorn says he’s been receiving plenty of support from folks passing by, including a card that was brought to him by a nine-year-old girl, which was the highlight of his day on Wednesday.

“It was so beautiful, it was so heartfelt… I think kids are often very wise about some things. Kids are baffled by the fact that we abandon other people to die, kids can’t imagine that,” Oudshoorn said.

“There’s been a real outpouring of support from the community from folks passing by, people saying they’re deliberately coming down here just to say that they believe in what we’re doing and they’re appalled to realize what the death rates have been… I’m not surprised by that.”

Read more: Family priced out of rental market on N.S. south shore forced to live in tents

Off the streets, a growing number of agencies have also voiced support for The Forgotten 519, including statements of support from Indwell, the London InterCommunity Health Centre and Sanctuary London.

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Victoria Ryan, who has worked in the homelessness relief field for about a year and a half, says she spent Tuesday night sleeping in a tent near Oudshoorn to offer support.

When she spoke to Global News on Wednesday, Ryan wore a shirt bearing a photo of Jessica Beacham, the woman found dead in the Thames River late last month.

“She was one that was lost through the cracks … it’s sad and it’s not just Jessica, there are so many other lives we’ve lost that are preventable (deaths),” Ryan said.

Victoria Ryan, who has worked in the homelessness relief field for about a year and a half, says she spent Tuesday night sleeping in a tent near Oudshoorn to offer support. Andrew Graham / Global News

Ryan is going back home on Wednesday night, but will leave a tent ready for anyone sleeping rough who needs a place to stay.

“I support everything that (The Forgotten 519) is asking for. It’s very minimal stuff, it’s not stuff that’s hard for the city to provide and it’s needed, it’s needed at this point,” Ryan said.

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“It’s more public for Dan, but there are so many people out here daily that go days without food… I just really want the people of London, politicians, everybody to just really, really listen.”

Read more: Advocacy groups entreat Ontario government to double social assistance rates

According to city officials, Thursday’s meeting will be the first of two “working sessions” and focus on “creating space to broadly share and listen to the experiences of those providing service in the community that has been gathered by #TheForgotten519 and discuss the ideas for immediate action.”

With regard to The Forgotten 519’s demand regarding tents and encampments, the city has said that its “current approach to encampments is to allow them to exist on public property. Only when there are imminent risks to health and safety – for the individuals or to the surrounding areas – has there been action taken.”

On Thursday evening, The Forgotten 519 will also host an open mic event outside of City Hall in support of Oudshoorn’s hunger strike.

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