Homeless hub locations divide council members and public, but mayor says plan still a ‘whole of community response’
A deepening political divide over London’s plan to address the homelessness crisis may be a symptom of continued confusion and uncertainty among council’s constituents.
On Monday, a marathon debate exceeded four hours as council’s Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee (SPPC) considered awarding contracts to operate the first three low barrier hubs that will serve Londoners experiencing homelessness.
“I just need people to believe that we can help (the homeless), that we can take them to that next step,” implored Mayor Josh Morgan. “I’m going to vote for this tonight. I know there’s lots of people who might not be happy with that vote, but I honestly believe we’re doing the right thing.”
Following a Request for Proposals (RFP) process, city staff recommend council approve two-year contracts (plus up to four one-year extensions) to open the first three low barrier hubs that will deliver services at five locations.
Atlhosa Family Healing Services (Indigenous hub) at 550 Wellington Road at the rear of the Parkwood Institute
Youth Opportunities Unlimited (youth hub) at 329 Richmond Street downtown, plus Building #16 on the Victoria Hospital campus
Canadian Mental Health Association (women and female-identifying people) My Sister’s Place building at 556 Dundas Street and if rezoned, the Lighthouse Inn at 705 Fanshawe Park Road West near Wonderland Road.
In total, 44 beds with wrap around supports would open at three sites this December.
Two locations, 705 Fanshawe Park Rd. W. and 800 Commissioners Road East, would open in May 2024 and increase the total bed count to 73.
Coun. Corrine Rahman reminded council, “We said we would have 90 to 150 beds by December 2023. This proposal is not that. It is 44 beds.”
“It isn’t enough,” said Coun. Susan Stevenson to her council colleagues. “I need us to dream bigger, get creative and figure it out.”
“Is there something better?” asked Coun. Jerry Pribil. “For 12.5 million can we make a better life for more people?”
Rahman, who represents Ward 7 in northwest London, put forward a motion to refer the decision about Lead Agencies and locations to Oct. 31.
In the first four days since the hub was proposed at the Lighthouse Inn, she received 575 emails from concerned neighbours.
The agenda for the SPPC meeting included 136 letters, 133 expressing concern, uncertainty, or outright opposition.
“I want to give the public and those business around the location the opportunity to have that dialogue with us,” added Rahman.
However, several councillors worried the referral would delay opening the first hubs in December.
“The consequence of supporting a referral (is) no more beds this year, and potentially partner agencies walking away,” countered Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis.
“I think it’s unfair and a bit selfish that one part of this city is holding up this process,” said Coun. Hadleigh McAlister.
“We are going to look indecisive,” worried Coun. Sam Trosow. “This is not going to put us in good stead with additional donors, this is not going to put us in good stead with senior levels of government.”
The referral was defeated.
After being broadly backed by council members during the initial development stages earlier this year, support among councillors has softened as details emerge.
On Monday, the committee voted 9 to 6 in favour of recommending all three hub operators and five locations.
Despite the divide on council, the mayor believes the plan remains a “whole of community” response to homelessness.
“Yes, this is still a process that involves the whole community,” Morgan tells CTV News. “This is just the first step in the process. There are many pieces to go, and many corrections we can make.”
London’s Whole of Community Response to Homelessness aims to create 600 highly supportive housing units and up to 15 hubs.
The goal is to open the first 100 units and three to five hubs by the end of this year.
Once all 73 beds are all open, the operating budget of the first five sites will be $8.1 million each year.
Members of the public can still provide input to council prior to a special meeting to finalize the hub operators and locations on Thursday, Oct. 5.
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