In light of the current multi-year budgeting process at City Hall, I drafted this letter on behalf of the London Homeless Coalition:
Dear Mayor Brown and esteemed members of London City Council,
On Thursday, October 8th the London Homeless Coalition hosted activities for World Homeless Action day. These activities served to highlight that homelessness is still a significant concern in our community, yet we are in the process of solving homelessness together in London.
As London City Council considers new spending priorities for multi-year budgeting, we as the London Homeless Coalition wanted to take a moment to write to you about our vision for doing better around homelessness. The Coalition exists to advise, shape, and coordinate community responses to homelessness in London, including what we can do as a municipality.
At the poverty conversation on October 17 (thank you to several of you for attending), Sister Sue Wilson shared with us that because poverty is human–made, it can also be undone. We would echo this same comment for homelessness. At the same forum, Deputy Premiere Deb Matthews shared that it was because of feedback received in consultations in London that the Government of Ontario has included the goal of ending homelessness in their Poverty Reduction Strategy.
We, as those most invested in the homeless sector in London, believe that homelessness is a solvable problem.
So what does this mean for us as a community and you as a Council? This means that we need to use our current resources wisely, and invest new resources in solution-oriented activities. The recent announcement by the Salvation Army of their move away from emergency shelter to housing solutions is reflective of a shift in using current resources wisely. Our latest shelter statistics show us that in fact the number of unique users of emergency shelter is on the decline. Similarly, in spite of a reduction in emergency shelter beds, shelter occupancy continues on average at less than 90%. We believe that this is reflective of the impact of Housing First programs now being delivered by CMHA Middlesex, London CAReS, Homes 4 Women, and others, as well as a housing focus across all agencies in London. We are having impact in the lives of people experiencing homelessness. In particular, we are helping people find home. With money freed up from emergency shelters you are now investing in a massive service collaboration to house street-level women at risk. This is a shift from band-aid responses to permanent solutions, and we laud this shift.
So what about new money and new opportunities? We believe that new money is still required in the homeless prevention system. Although shifts in service delivery will lead to savings in this sector as well as others, sometimes these shifts require investment of new resources. Housing supplements are a good example of this need. Housing supplements are an important piece of the puzzle for Housing First solutions. However, although agencies often have the staff and skills to delivering Housing First, the need for actual supplements remains high. This is an important investment in housing solutions, in solving homelessness.
London has a Homeless Prevention System Implementation Plan. As highlighted above, we are making excellent progress on this plan. So much so that London is beginning to be recognized as a leader in solving homelessness. However, there are a number of components of this plan that are still in process or being developed. A strategy for youth is a good example of this. Youth are the fastest growing demographic accessing emergency shelter. The plan in development will include key ideas for us as a community to solve youth homelessness, and will require some resourcing. This is money well spent.
Solving homelessness is not simply an administrative requirement, a responsibility of the municipality. Solving homelessness together is about community building, and is as important a community building task as the London Plan, transit strategy, and river development. You, as City Council, have an incredible opportunity to lead in this plan by making new investments in the sector. This will set our community up to leverage provincial opportunities given our alignment with their goal of ending homelessness. We believe that this is wise stewardship of municipal dollars, and we look forward to being a partner on coordinating the community to make the best use of these dollars driven by clear outcomes.
We remain available at all times to discuss budgeting or implementation components of solving homelessness together in London. Thank you for your interest in our work.
Poverty is human–made, it can also be undone. Amen !