New advocate group for homeless community threatening hunger strike in London, Ont. – London | Canadian

#TheForgotten519, a new group of front-line workers advocating for the homeless population in London, Ont., is threatening a hunger strike if action is not taken. The group is calling for the city to make a change and help fight “preventable deaths.”

They have given the city one week to agree to their three demands or offer acceptable alternatives. If the city doesn’t, they say one of the members of #TheForgotten519 will start a hunger strike at 9 a.m. on Aug. 2.

“This hunger strike will continue and escalate until the demands are met or until the designated negotiators from #TheForgotten519 unanimously report that an acceptable alternative has been agreed upon,” the group said in a news release.

#TheForgotten519 consists of members who have lived experiences of homelessness, impoverishment and oppression. The organizing committee consists of Dr. Andrea Sereda, physician to people deprived of housing; Leticia Mizon of the Ontario Network of People Who Use Drugs (ONPUD) and a front-line worker; Daniel Oudshoorn, outreach worker and grassroots researcher; and Jenna Rose Sands, the director of SafeSpace London and a community activist.

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“We’re just not OK with people dying anymore,” said Mizon. “There’s very little services to support people’s longevity, health, wellness, belonging and community right now.”

Mizon said now that the COVID-19 funding is gone, it has left them in a rough spot. Those experiencing homelessness are having to find alternatives, like camping and sleeping rough, leaving them more susceptible to sickness and danger.

“Housing support workers and case managers are also feeling that very heavily because our clients are dying. We’re overworked.”

The three demands are:

  1. Immediate termination of any removal of encampments, tents, campsites, or squats in City Parks, along the Thames Valley Parkway, and in empty city lots, or lots that have been left to fall into disrepair by the property owners.
  2. Immediate transition of the City of London’s Coordinated Informed Response (CIR) Team from a displacement model, to a team that offers meaningful support (based on the self-identified needs of the campers) to campers at their campsites.
  3. Immediate creation of two indoor spaces (one in the core, one in the east end) that provide 24/7 support to people who are deprived of housing and shelter, or who simply need a safe place to be.

The news release also outlined the number of deaths in the past two years among the homeless population.

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“In 2021, based on official death notifications, 74 people died while being supported in some way by front line workers,” it said. “This number is up from the 59 deaths of this nature we were aware of in 2020.”

For 2022, the number sits at 34 people who have died among the homeless population. #TheForgotten519 said this number could be larger than is known, because these numbers are based on official reports.

The City of London told 980 CFPL this is not an unknown issue.

“We’re aware that these are challenges,” said Kevin Dickins, deputy city manager for social and health development. “They’re challenges that I think the entire community has been trying to address for the last couple of years and we’ve seen a lot of new programs, new housing supports introduced over the last couple of years that have had some significant impact.”

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The supports Dickins refers to include affordable rapid housing projects and working with the community to allow rental allowances. He also said the city has continued to try and introduce more supportive housing programs.

The first reaction the city had to the threatened hunger strike was to extend an invitation for an open conversation among the group and senior staff for the city. Dickins said #TheForgotten519 has agreed to a conversation.

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“We recognize that homelessness is a very complicated issue, as is the cyclical nature of individuals living with addiction,” he said. “Recovery is not linear and substance use recovery doesn’t happen overnight.”

According to Dickins, the city continues to advocate for the issue. He said one of the key advocacy points from the city to the province has been more investment in community-based mental health and addiction supports. He added that they continue to advance housing projects at the federal level as well.

“It’s going to take a lot of different sectors coming together to rethink the way we are supporting our community.”

Dickins encouraged #TheForgotten519 to engage with the London Homeless Coalition, saying the city continues to work with them. He said their voices will be heard really well among the coalition, who likely have similar thoughts on the matter.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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