Homelessness and social housing dominate committee meeting at London city hall

An approach to homelessness that puts compassion before a call to police or bylaw enforcement officers is getting support at London city hall.

Previously run as a 90-day pilot project from September to December last year, city staff say the “core area informed response” dismantled 94 urban camps, helped 13 people find housing, and cleared nearly 2,000 needles and 84 bins of garbage.

Council, sitting as the strategic priorities and policy committee Monday afternoon, unanimously supported expanding the program’s focus from the downtown core and Old East Village to the entire city for the rest of the year, starting again April 1.

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“We do believe it’s making a difference,” said city manager Martin Hayward of the compassion-focused project. Rather than forcing people in urban camps to pack up and move along, the project connects them with housing, and mental health and addiction supports.

If given the green light at Tuesday’s full council meeting, the city will spend $1.25 million to expand the program. The bulk of the cash, from a reserve fund, with be used on 24/7 outreach workers, bylaw enforcement officers and security, and bolstering a team of people who find housing.

“Behind this is housing. We can help people on the street, but if we have no place for these people to go, then it’s wasted efforts,” said Ward 8 Coun. Steve Lehman.

London Middlesex Housing Corp, the city’s public housing provider, has an ever-growing wait list for units and a $230-million backlog to maintain its existing infrastructure.

LMHC says $223M needed to maintain public housing in London

In an effort to better support the needs of Londoners, the corporation’s CEO, Josh Browne, asked its only shareholder — the city — to let it search for new revenue streams.

“Like many housing providers, we’re experiencing cost pressures and limited movement as rental rates become unaffordable, and home ownership is all but a dream for our tenants,” Browne said.

As per a motion from Ward 7 Coun. Josh Morgan, councillors agreed to have staff review the corporation’s shareholder agreement with the city ahead of the 2020-2023 budget. The decision still needs to be rubber stamped by full council.

The LMHC gets about $10 million in operating funding from city hall, and another $2.2 million in capital.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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