As the four-day hunger strike aimed at drawing attention to the multitude of deaths among the London, Ont., unhoused population came to an end last week, homeless advocates remain pleased with the city-agreed solutions.
#TheForgotten519 coalition, local agencies and city officials came to an agreement on Friday after several hour-long meetings over the week.
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“After two full days of work, we were actually able to meet all of the demands by consensus,” said Dr. Andrea Sereda, organizing committee member of #TheForgotten519 and physician at London InterCommunity Health Centre. “We were able to find changes in the way that encampments are dealt with in London and to make it a more supportive and collaborative response.”
In following the initial demands set by the group early last week, a nine-step action plan has been created and will include parameters for dealing with encampments and the people within them and when city bylaw is to get involved with the Community Task Force.
The plan also calls for the city and Community Task Force to provide material on where people can and can’t set up encampments from a bylaw perspective and for the city to provide water and food for acute needs to London Cares for distribution.
Increasing showers for those living in encampments is also on the city’s radar through the use of shower trails.
In the weeks leading up to the hunger strike, Sereda said that in the observation of front-line workers, “encampments were moved without a lot of compassion, without notification, and really, without anywhere for people to go.”
“By negotiating those demands and to the credit of the city, who really did listen to the experiences of frontline workers, we were able to develop a more supportive model where outreach teams would first have contact with encampments.”
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The group’s third demand for 24/7 support is still under development as a team of various service providers is being formed to advance a site with more medium- to long-term support ahead of winter.
Their first meeting is scheduled for Aug. 16.
Sereda added that in the first week that demands were addressed to the city, initial conversations with the city were “uncomfortable.”
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“As one member of #TheForgotten519, it did feel like in that first week that the city didn’t want to listen to the group and felt that their understanding of the situation was the correct one,” she said. “But that evolved.
“We’ve now got to a place where the city is really listening to front-line professionals and I think an important part of that is we received an absolute overwhelming amount of support from the community.”
Sereda highlighted the range of in-depth individual letters of support and encouragement that travelled across the country.
“There were individual support letters from community members, as well as loved ones of people who are housing-deprived,” she said. “That well of support really validated the observations and the experiences of front-line workers like #TheForgotten519 and I think, in that context, the city went home and really started to listen.”
Deputy Mayor Josh Morgan told Global News last week that resources cannot be made available overnight for the unhoused community, among others, as the local municipality works through a dependency on other levels of government.
“(City officials) are working within an incredibly broken system that the municipality is just one player in,” Morgan said. “We do not have the proper supports across the province for supporting vulnerable populations, including those who are experiencing homelessness.
“That’s why you see the same issue replicated in other cities of our size in the province of Ontario and, frankly, in other provinces across Canada,” he continued. “The system is just not structured to give people the resources they need to support what has been an explosion in the cost of living both from an inflationary standpoint and, before that, from a cost of housing standpoint.
“There are certainly short-term things that we need to do to serve the population that is … living in encampments. But we cannot take our eyes off of the medium- and long-term ground that we need to gain in providing wraparound supports, housing with wraparound supports for those who need it and, frankly, affordable housing spaces for those who simply can’t afford the market where it is today.”
When asked about the same issue, Sereda said “all levels of government need to treat housing as an absolute crisis.”
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“It’s complex which levels of government fund each portion of this crisis or the solution to this crisis. But I think the very first step, which is what we achieved in London last week, was to acknowledge that we are in a crisis,” she said.
While the homeless advocacy group remains satisfied with the decision agreed upon with the city, Sereda said the group will continue to “better improve the lives of the people.”
“We may get to go home at night, but we’re certainly never stepping away from these issues,” she stressed. “Everyone within #TheForgotten519, we would like to keep the conversation going so that this can be centred in the minds of Londoners as an issue that we need to discuss.”
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