Community foundation looking to have London ‘Be the Change’ with environmental focus

FILE - Victoria Park in London, Ont. City of London /

Highlighting the urgency in protecting the environment, the London Community Foundation (LCF) launched its 2022 Vital Signs Report, Be the Change, on Tuesday.

Based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Vital Signs program involves a biennial report examining issues related to well-being and quality of life and is part of a national program from Community Foundations of Canada.

It also includes statements from local leaders in different community groups such as the London Environmental Network, the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, London and Middlesex Community Housing, the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection, Anova and the London Abused Woman’s Centre (LAWC), the Middlesex-London Health Unit, the London Food Bank and Western University.

New this year, the 2022 report specifically outlined the consequences of climate change and is challenging the LCF, as well as residents of the Forest City and surrounding areas, to embrace sustainability in establishing a greener community.

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The report also included a focus on six other issues: housing, racial equality, gender equality, well-being, food security and education.

“With the impact of the pandemic over the past couple of years, social needs, including housing, really rose to the top of our priority list and we felt the need to respond,” said LCF’s president and CEO, Martha Powell. “However, the environment has always been and continues to be an important issue. It, too, is a crisis but often not perceived as such.”

According to officials, the COVID-19 pandemic has “positively impacted” the environment, in some ways, due to a substantial shift in how people worked and travelled.

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As detailed in the report, from 2019 to 2020, greenhouse gas emissions dropped 11 per cent. The city is also replacing combined sewer systems that cannot hold the amount of water produced in severe weather events.

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“What happens in a dual system is when you have a bad rain, it can’t handle the sewage, wastewater and rainwater so it overflows and bypasses the sewage treatment plants,” explained Dr. Jerry White, Vital Signs chair and LCF board member. “We had 43 overflow and bypass incidents between 2016 and 2018, and a million cubic metres of contaminated water went into the Thames River.”

However, according to the newest report, marginalized communities are most at risk for climate change as well as negative environmental impacts.

“For example, First Nations communities are more likely to have problems accessing clean drinking water, including Oneida of the Thames First Nation, which is on a long-term boil water advisory,” said White. “In addition, the lowest-income neighbourhoods in London tend to have fewer trees and are unable to take advantage of their benefits.

“When talking about the environment, we want people that understand how it fits with the other issues, not that they’re competing for our attention.”

In regards to housing, officials said that more than 6,200 families are currently on the waiting list for social housing in the city, while roughly 2,000 people in the community are experiencing homelessness.

“Vital Signs says it’s time for meaningful action that addresses the root causes of housing issues like income inequality, domestic and gender-based violence, improving mental health support, and not to mention tenants’ rights,” White continued.

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The report states that there was a 70 per cent increase in hate crimes and nearly 60 per cent rise in hate-motivated occurrences in the last year, according to the London Police Service. In 2021 alone, police said there were twice as many hate crime-based charges compared with 2020.

“And that’s just what’s been reported,” White said. “We went to some of our academic friends and studies by Western University social scientists who indicate that when they did interviews with people in the city, six out of 10 Indigenous people, our neighbours, report some sort of discriminatory action in the last three years.”

Additionally, similar studies highlighted that four out of 10 newcomers report experiencing discrimination in the last three years as well.

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The LAWC is reporting “ever-increasing” demands, providing a total of 11,700 service interactions between 2021 and 2022, up six per cent in terms of year-over-year figures. Anova also reported a 21 per cent increase in shelter services in the last year.

The Vital Signs report also states that since 2020, the London Food Bank has seen a 38 per cent jump in requested usage, down from a 51 per cent increase in 2020.

“Nobody should ever need to choose between paying a bill and buying food, no parent should go without so that their kids can eat their breakfast, and no kids should ever go to bed hungry,” White stressed. “We call for a sustainable healthy food system that minimizes waste and ensures access and gives you some ways of you can help with that.”

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The topic of mental health and well-being was also addressed in the city’s latest report, bringing to light the drastic rise in opioid-related deaths. The latest figures available indicate 126 deaths in 2021, a 110 per cent increase over 2019. Local emergency rooms also saw more than 1,000 overdose visits in an increase of 90 per cent from 2019 as well.

The Canadian Mental Health Association of London said it received 55,000 mental health-related crisis calls in 2021 alone.

“It’s crucial, from our point of view, that everyone has equal access to not only physical care, but also mental and spiritual care,” White said.

“We placed a little bit of an emphasis on environmental in this report because the environment impacts everybody and climate change and the destruction of it worsens the various other issues that we face,” he continued. “They’re interrelated, whether it’s food security or racial equity. If we have environmental problems, it impacts many people that facing other kinds of issues.”

White, circling back to the effects of the pandemic, stressed that while some aspects have impacted the environment in a positive way, in terms of education, the effect of school closures on a child’s educational development has had the opposite effect.

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A Canadian survey of 9,500 educators conducted in spring 2021 found that 55 per cent of elementary and secondary teachers reported fewer students were meeting learning objectives compared to other years. Also, 75 per cent said they were behind schedule in covering their curriculum, and 70 per cent were worried that some students will not catch up academically.

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While the report focuses on key areas of concern in the community, the Virtual Signs platform works to “help guide changemaking,” providing additional information for Londoners to not only read more about pressing issues, but also to have the resources to speak up about “problems that touch us all.”

“What we’ve tried to do this year is to make make it possible to just have a look at each of the seven areas, and if you want, connect to an expert who’s explaining how they can work on it, they can go deeper and deeper and deeper,” White said.

“The takeaway message is that together, we have the power to shape the future of our community. Change can’t wait any longer and we all play a role in making it happen.”

For more information about the Be the Change 2022 Vital Signs report from LCF, visit the report’s website.

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