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Council seeks greater distances between homeless encampments and schools, homes, other sensitive sites

An encampment in a woodlot near the Thames River in London, Ont. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV News London) An encampment in a woodlot near the Thames River in London, Ont. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV News London)
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The number of locations where homeless encampments are permitted in London will get more restrictive after a long debate by members of city council.

On Tuesday, the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee (SPPC) spent more than two hours debating an updated Encampment Strategy after several members raised concern about minimum distances between tents and some sensitive land uses.

“For me 50 [metres] from an elementary school or a water park, that’s nowhere near sufficient,” said Coun. Steve Lehman.

The updated strategy includes safety protocols within encampments, a map of 14 parks/public spaces where tents will be subject to rapid removal, and a list of minimum setback distances.

A meandering series of motions, amendments, and referrals were put forward by members of council seeking to increase some of the recommended minimum distances.

“I came today to support greater distances. I’m willing to meet in the middle, but I don’t want to kick the can down the road,” said Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis.

“I want to be very careful that we don’t start using arbitrary numbers or creating a level of complexity that’s going to be difficult to enforce,” warned Coun. Sam Trosow.

He added that if setback distances are too great, the city could end up facing a legal challenge because the number of permitted areas could be few or none.

 

Ultimately, a majority of the committee settled on the following guidelines:

  • not within 150 metres of an elementary school or daycare (initial recommendation 50 metres)
  • not within 100 metres of a private residential property with a dwelling (initial recommendation 10 metres)
  • not within 100 metres of playgrounds, pools, splash pads, sports fields, golf courses (initial recommendation 5 metres to 50 metres)

 

Other restrictions endorsed by council

  • not inside off-leash dog parks
  • not in cemeteries
  • not in community gardens
  • not on sidewalks or paths, in municipal parking lots, or under bridges
  • not in doorways and blocking accessibility ramps
  • not in other areas posing a safety risk (flooding, slope instability, etc.)

Encampments violating the no-go zones will risk rapid removal by the city’s Community Informed Response (CIR) Team, outreach workers, by-law enforcement, and police if needed.

Individuals are notified and given 24 hours to relocate their encampment unless there is an immediate risk to safety.

“I don’t thing anyone here wants to see encampments,” said Mayor Josh Morgan. “The goal here is not having encampments. The goal is ultimately having people housed. I really like the basics and the fundamentals of the plan.”

Between 2021-2023, each year an average of 84 people living unsheltered found housing. An additional 24 people died.

 

Encampment Safety Protocols made public in May

  • No more than six tents/shelters per encampment
  • No open fires or combustibles
  • Minors under 16 years old will be reported to Children’s Aid Society (CAS)
  • No used or uncapped needles around the site
  • Pets must be on a leash when outside a tent
  • A muzzle is required if a pet is known to be violent
  • Human trafficking is not tolerated and will be reported
  • Intimidation, physical violence, or threats towards neighboring tents, community residents, or staff providing services will not be tolerated
  • Brandishing weapons will not be tolerated
  • No large amounts of garbage, food waste, or hoarding
  • Tents can’t be near a playground, pathway, open area of play, or on a flood plain, river embankments, roadways, private property, side walks, or bus shelters

Council will make a final decision during its meeting on June 25.

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