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Council backs 120 winter shelter beds— but church location draws skepticism

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London’s cold weather strategy was never going to bring everyone experiencing homelessness inside this winter— but a political push almost cut the number of overnight spaces by more than half.

On Tuesday, city council considered approving up to 120 shelter beds (until May 31) that would be operated by Ark Aid Street Mission at a total cost of $3 million.

  • 30 beds at The Ark in the Old East Village ($826,686)
  • 65 beds at Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church on William Street ($1,472,739)
  • 15 beds at the CMHA Coffee House on Hamilton Road ($404,323)
  • 10 beds at CMHA My Sisters Place on Dundas Street ($335,216)

Frontline agencies began work on the plan in July, but with life-threatening overnight temperatures already in the region, there was frustration over the plan and its late arrival to council.

“Work on this started many months ago, but what’s been put before us really has a lot of hallmarks of a rushed plan,” said Coun. Hadleigh McAlister.

There was unanimous support for the three smallest locations, but several councillors opposed 65 beds on the property of Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church at the southeast corner of William Street and Queens Avenue.

“Think about whether this is really the right building,” Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis urged colleagues.

He expressed concern about renovating the church’s former daycare space to upgrade fire safety, security, plumbing, and electrical.

“I do not believe we should be spending public dollars to renovate a building, for whatever reason, that enjoys tax-free status as a faith based institution,” Lewis explained.

Lewis mentioned the recently closed Bob Hayward Memorial YMCA building on Hamilton Road as a turn-key alternative.

City staff recently considered the YMCA building— but no frontline agency was willing to operate a shelter in the space.

What followed was a tense debate that at times seemed to put the 65 beds in serious doubt.

“I’m concerned about its proximity to other shelters, about its proximity to the Old East Village, concerned about its proximity to Dundas Street,” said Coun. Steve Lehman.

But other councillors pointed out that the former church daycare might not be perfect— but there is no alternative.

“There are 65 reasons why we have to do this,” argued Coun. Sam Trosow. “I’m trying to think about the human suffering.”

Coun. Susan Stevenson, who has fought against the clustering of homeless shelters in and around the Old East Village, argued just as vehemently in favour of the temporary beds this winter.

“This is a request for shelter—for shelter in the winter! We have the money,” Stevenson pleaded with her colleagues.

Deputy City Manager of Social and Health Development Kevin Dickins confirmed that civic administration had scraped together just enough unused funding from other homelessness programs to cover the $3 million cost for all 120 beds.

That financial assurance was enough to convince Mayor Josh Morgan to flip his vote from last week’s committee meeting.

“We can stand here and criticize everybody for the situation we are in, or we can try to make the best of it, and take the next step forward,” he said in support of the site.

In the end, it was still a relatively close 9 to 6 vote in favour of the 65 beds.

IN FAVOUR

  • Morgan
  • McAlister
  • Stevenson
  • Pribil
  • Trosow
  • Rahman
  • Hopkins
  • Franke
  • Peloza

OPPOSED

  • Lewis
  • Cuddy
  • Lehman
  • Van Meerbergen
  • Ferreira
  • Hillier

There are an estimated 2,000 Londoners experiencing homelessness including about 600 high-needs individuals.

Civic Administration has already acknowledged that many people will have to survive the winter in tent encampments.

Council committed to door-to-door canvassing in the neighbourhoods around the four winter shelter locations.

“Londoners need to know what’s going on, they need to feel safe and secure, but we also need to support those who are living in precarious situations,” said McAlister.

Civic administration will update council if renovations and occupancy approvals at the church building experience significant delays.

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