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How London avoided return of large homeless encampments this summer

London, Ont. -

London remains in the grip of a housing crisis, but a new approach by City Hall has discouraged the return of large-scale tent encampments in the downtown core and Old East Village.

At different times last summer, groups of tents and makeshift shelters dotted Queens Park, Bathurst Street and a floodplain in SOHO.

According to City Hall, a new policy requiring encampments to remain small is improving safety and requiring less frequent relocation.

“We allow folks to have three tents or less in an area, making sure they are not near sidewalks or pathways that might cause health and safety challenges,” explains Craig Cooper, director of Housing Stability.

Encampments are also told not to have fire pits.

Cooper admits that the large encampments became problematic last year.

“Those areas were getting momentum and becoming a party area,” he tells CTV News London. “We saw a lot of transient people coming in and out, people that were housed (but) looking for a party, which then brought social challenges into the area.”

The three-tent limit has still permitted outreach by social service agencies.

“The streets have gotten a lot unsafe,” says Brad, who is living in a small encampment in east London.

He believes smaller groups of tents is modestly improving safety, but affordable housing would be better.

“I worry about the safety of everybody. I pray for them every day, the people in the struggle.”

Large, prominent encampments forced many Londoners to confront the extent of the homelessness crisis, however, the absence of tents this summer does not indicate the crisis is over.

According to City Hall, as of July 14, there were 1,278 people who identified themselves to the city as homeless during the previous 90 days.

The actual figure is believed to be higher.

“We are seeing an increase from last year, and the year before, in our unsheltered populations,” adds Cooper. “All of our shelters and resting spaces are at capacity.”

The population of unsheltered Londoners continues to rise despite some recent successes.

Since March 2020, 603 people have been housed, according to City Hall. Over the same period, 772 individuals have utilized the hotel room program.

The city is currently working with shelters to return them to full capacity as the pandemic subsides. Top Stories

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