On October 10, advocates around the globe marked World Homeless Day. Here in the Forest City, the London Homeless Coalition hosted a handful of events to draw attention to the issue of homelessness in our city – including a memorial for 25 lives lost to homelessness in London in the past year.
Such a loss of life – and of quality of life for many others – would be unacceptable at any time. Coming just after Thanksgiving, when many Canadians have celebrated an abundant harvest by preparing large meals and bringing large groups of family and friends under one roof, it stands out even more. Addressing poverty and homelessness must be a priority for London’s next City Council.
At the municipal level, we can ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing. One of the tools to do that is inclusionary zoning, which would require a certain percentage of units in any new development to be affordable to people with low and moderate incomes. (Generally, housing is considered “affordable” when households do not pay more than 30% of gross income on annual accommodation costs.) This also means affordable housing units will blend in with the rest of the development, which creates a healthy, mixed community rather than isolating those with lower incomes. These units must be done across the board, from highrises to subdivisions, in order to be truly effective.
London can also expand our Housing First program, which provides immediate access to permanent housing and support services for people experiencing homelessness. This approach treats people with dignity, and doesn’t require them to clear other hurdles, such as a period of sobriety, before being sheltered. In many cases it has permanently improved people’s living conditions. It is also cost effective. People without homes require a huge amount of resources from law enforcement and healthcare. Providing people with a stable place to live reduces these pressures on other parts of the system – the number of ambulance calls, for example. Expanding this program can be done immediately, by hiring more workers and increasing the rent subsidy.
Of course, not everything that needs to be done to tackle poverty is within the city’s control. Right now the monthly housing allowance portion of Ontario Works is $237 below the market rent for London. The next council must lobby the Ontario government to increase social assistance rates. So far, it is going in the opposite direction. The new provincial government rolled back a planned 3% increase in July to 1.5%, or just $11 per month. The basic income pilot was also cancelled instead of being seen to completion, so that we can understand the benefits and drawbacks of a province-wide program. London council needs to open dialogue with the provincial government to reverse this decision.
London Middlesex Housing Corporation is also mired in repair backlogs because the funding simply isn’t there to keep up. Dwelling units can take months to get simple repairs completed and in the meantime are not suitable for living. There is also a need for support workers to help many living in these subsidized units that simply is not present.
Another piece of the puzzle is the lack of community support for addictions. The temporary overdose prevention site has been funded on eleventh-hour decisions and we must work to find an appropriate location for a permanent site. People who are suffering from addictions need to have a reliable location to go to get help from professionals who can lead them down a path to freedom from the strangling grip of drugs.
We need to do better for low-income and precariously housed Londoners. I will work with council colleagues to expand Housing First and implement inclusionary zoning in London. I will also raise the issue of Ontario Works and ODSP rates loudly and often with provincial representatives. Let’s work together to eliminate homelessness in London.