City unveils $2.3M 'emergency response' to winter homelessness
LONDON, ONT. -- Living in tents and make-shift structures, 117 Londoners remain unsheltered at the onset of winter weather.
A new ‘Winter Response Plan’ has been unveiled by City Hall to create safe shelter space through the winter for individuals experiencing street-level homelessness.
“This is an emergency response. It is not an intervention that is long-term,” explains Kevin Dickins, City Hall’s acting managing director of Housing, Social Services, and Dearness Home.
The $2.3-million plan will create two daytime ‘coffee house’ drop-in centres, and two daytime/overnight shelters in neighbourhoods where unsheltered Londoners are already living.
Each will operate until the end of April 2021.
“Its not a plan that will be perfect, but it’s a plan born out of principles of dignity and respect,” adds Dickins.
Daytime Coffee Houses:
- Hamilton Road Seniors Centre, 525 Hamilton Rd.
- Dundas Field House, 177-179 Dundas St.
- T-Block Parking Lot, 652 Elizabeth St.
- Privately-owned parking lot, near downtown
Each facility will accommodate up to 30 people, plus social workers, volunteers and outreach teams.
City Hall is also adding 10 rooms to its hotel/motel program, bringing the room count to 132.
Dickins admits it isn’t enough overnight space for everyone currently living unsheltered, but staffing limitations prevent more spaces from being created.
“Our numbers will not solve the fact people are unsheltered,” he says.
The two overnight shelters set up in parking lots will include three trailers for sleeping, plus bathroom facilities, laundries, and a community space.
Dickins says it will be a low-barrier shelter system, but not a no-barrier shelter system. People will not be permitted to use drugs inside the trailers.
So-called ‘amnesty totes’ and ‘amnesty lockers’ will allow individuals to safely store items while they sleep.
Individuals will be verbally screened for COVID-19 risks before entering the spaces.
Beds will be distanced to reduce the risk of transmission.
A temporary security fence will also be installed for the safety of shelter residents.
But most importantly, social workers and volunteers will seek to maintain a sense of ‘community’ among residents who have spent the summer months living together in parks and along the river.
“They want a sense of community,” says Dickins. “People have been very clear with us they won’t move indoors if they don’t have safe space and community.”
The city intends to have the shelters open by late December.
A report detailing the plan will be considered by council’s Community and Protective Services Committee on Tuesday.