$25M donation to new London, Ont. homeless plan announced at 2023 state of city address

London’s 44th state of the city address, held at RBC Place London, saw a crowd of nearly 1,300 people, marking the gathering's return to a live, in-person audience following two years of virtual formatting. Andrew Graham / Global News

An anonymous London, Ont., family is donating $25 million, believed to be the “single largest gift of its kind in London’s history,” in support of a “bold new approach” to dealing with homelessness in the city.

Mayor Josh Morgan made the announcement at his first state of the city address on Tuesday morning, identifying the ongoing issues of homelessness, poverty, mental health and addictions as a public health emergency that’s “no longer restricted to London’s downtown.”

“Over the last few months, more than 200 Londoners, representing 60 different groups and organizations, have joined together as part of an effort that’s not only the first of its kind in our city, but anywhere in Canada,” Morgan said. “For the first time in London’s history, we have everyone coming to the table at the same time wanting to help and committing to action.

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“I’m talking about members of the business community and the development community, representatives from out world-class hospitals, along with community health, social service agencies, emergency services, outreach workers, and charities – all banding together.”

The “permanent and sustainable system,” Morgan said, would “mark the end of temporary emergency response programs in London.” The latest emergency response was rolled out this winter.

He added that the new health and homelessness system being developed “meets people where they are.” However, specific details, including immediate action items, won’t be shared publicly until next month.

“This group believes, as I believe in my position as mayor, that in no uncertain terms, housing is health care and housing is a fundamental human rights issue,” Morgan said.

Additionally, Morgan revealed that a local family, who wishes to remain anonymous, donated $25 million in support of the new and upcoming system.

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“This donation is significant, both in dollars and the impact it will have, but it’s more than that. It’s a testament to the belief in the process, and a validation of the work that’s being done,” he said.

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Morgan added that the donation is “by no means” the final cost of the system, saying that a plan of this nature “requires ongoing funding and support.”

Aside from their substantial donation, the anonymous donors have also offered to provide an additional $5 million in matching funds should that amount be raised by the community.

According to the city, contributions can be made to The Health and Homelessness Fund For Change, managed by The London Community Foundation.

“For the first time ever, we’ll be making these asks (to government partners and others) with one voice, and with significant funds already raised,” he said.

London’s 44th state of the city address, held at RBC Place London and organized annually by the London Chamber of Commerce, saw a crowd of nearly 1,300 people, marking the gathering’s return to a live, in-person audience following two years of virtual formatting.

Elsewhere in his address, Morgan touched on London’s housing issues, noting that Statistics Canada pegged the Forest City as having the lowest homeownership rate in Ontario.

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In light of the city’s latest housing figures, he circled back to his campaign pledge of constructing 50,000 new homes in the city over the next 10 years, including 10,000 in the core area.

“Right now, we have over one million square feet of unused commercial office space in the core alone,” Morgan noted. “If owners are willing to explore partnerships with the municipality and other orders of government, we should be at the table talking. We’ve seen this work done elsewhere in Canada, and there’s absolutely no reason why it can’t work here in London.”

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He referenced the progress of the previous council’s pledge to create 3,000 new affordable housing units by 2026, saying that “nearly 75 per cent of that target is either already completed or now in the works.”

“A significant piece of that total is represented by the transformative Vision Soho Alliance’s housing development on the old Victoria Hospital lands,” Morgan said. “Construction there will ramp up this spring with Phase 1 targeted for completion next year.”

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Transportation was highlighted as another key area in the mayor’s address as he stressed the importance of community participation in the city’s Master Mobility Plan – “a process that will determine how London prioritizes all modes of transportation for the next 25 years.”

He also shared London Transit’s plans to increase the frequency of 17 routes and create two new express routes to Fanshawe College and White Oaks Mall.

Morgan noted that over the last four years, London’s economy has added more jobs, per capita, than any other medium- to large-sized city in Canada.

He also recognized that London will become the first North American city to host the 2024 UNESCO Cities of Music Meetings, “resulting in representatives from 58 cities around the world coming to London for next year’s event.”

In reiterating campaign promises, Morgan added that he plans to fulfill the London Police Service’s request for 52 new officers, also pledging continued support for organizations such as Anova, the London Abused Women’s Centre, Atlohsa, Changing Ways and the Muslim Resource Centre.

“The state of the city is ours to define,” Morgan said. “We will be defined by our commitments to conquer complex issues, and we will be defined by the work we do together.

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“Whether it’s homelessness, mental health and addictions, housing affordability, or the environment, the efforts we make in these areas for the next several months will chart London’s course for the next several decades.”

— with files from Global News’ Andrew Graham.


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