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Councillors back extension of shelter funding for Ark Aid — but SafeSpace’s request on hold

Shelter beds operated by Ark Aid Street Mission in London, Ont. are seen on May 7, 2024. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV News London)
Shelter beds operated by Ark Aid Street Mission in London, Ont. are seen on May 7, 2024. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV News London)

A long and meandering debate let councillors express their frustration about the cycle of short-term funding that destabilizes services for homeless Londoners.

On Tuesday, council’s Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee (SPPC) considered two separate funding requests to extend shelter spaces from May 31 to July 31.

A letter from Mayor Josh Morgan and Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis sought $687,000 to extend 24/7 shelter spaces operated by Ark Aid Street Mission for an addition 61 days.

That time would be used by Civic Administration to review a proposal by the Ark to offer year-round support services, service depots and meet peoples’ basic needs for $6 million.

Since launching the Winter Response to Homelessness in December, the Ark has served more than 1,000 individuals by providing 120 beds and approximately the same number of daytime spaces.

On Tuesday, Executive Director Sarah Campbell told the committee that there is nowhere else to send people.

“For those living unsheltered in the City of London, the referral as of May 31 is to a curb, to a tent, and to a park,” she explained. “That’s what we have. Our shelter system is at capacity and has been for many years.”

“We need more stability,” said Coun. Sam Trosow. “Here we are again at the last minute [with] a funding request.”

Coun. David Ferreira expressed his frustration about the repeating cycle of short-term funding.

“I don’t want to be coming back [to consider funding] again and again and again,” he said.

Coun. Susan Stevenson acknowledged that residents and businesses in the Old East Village may not be pleased about another extension.

“You know who does benefit from Ark Aid? The people who get service there. So, it’s a difficult vote for me, but I’m going to be voting to support the funding even though it’s on the main street of my BIA,” she said.

The committee unanimously recommended the funding extension for Ark Aid Street Mission until July 31.

Council will make a final decision May 14.

The deputy mayor emphasized the importance that Ark Aid Street Mission came forward with a long-term proposal to fill the service gap until more hubs open as part of the Whole of Community Response to Homelessness.

“I am not going to continue to fund a granola bar and a bottle of water. It’s just not good enough,” Lewis told colleagues. “We’ve got to fund pathways to recovery from addiction, we have to fund pathways to supports for mental health, and we’ve got to fund pathways to housing.”

Meanwhile, a request for $130,000 to extend shelter services at SafeSpace London was put on hold.

SafeSpace provides services to homeless women and gender-nonconforming people in a building at the corner of Dundas and Lyle.

Members of SPPC referred the funding request to their meeting on May 28 so that the organization can share data from its shelter services and answer questions.

Stevenson said SafeSpace needs to relocate as part of a longer-term plan to offer services.

“There’s a lot of people, and a lot of councillors here who support SafeSpace,” she said. “Find another location. It can’t be in Old East Village. It can’t be on the main street. I won’t support it on the main street of any BIA in this city.”

Lewis meanwhile offered a suggestion before SafeSpace returns later this month.

“I’m not looking for more drop-in [spaces]. I’m looking for more life-changing. I’m looking for more pathways to recovery and pathways to housing,” he said.

Although its municipal funding expires May 31, a surplus will keep SafeSpace’s shelter program operating until a final decision is made by council on June 4. Top Stories

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