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Morgan, Lewis pitch extending winter shelter spaces through July so city can consider year-round proposal

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A last ditch effort at city hall might see the doors to Ark Aid Street Mission’s winter homeless shelter remain open past the end of this month.

On Monday, a letter from Mayor Josh Morgan and Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis was added to the agenda of the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee requesting council provide $687,000 to keep the shelter spaces open until July 31 so that city staff have time to consider the Ark’s proposal to offer year-round support services.

“My biggest concern was that on May 31 my referral [to homeless Londoners] would be to a tent in a park,” Executive Director Sarah Campbell told CTV News London. “This gives me hope that we will have options to offer people.”

Since opening in December, more than 1,000 individuals have accessed services through the Winter Response to Homelessness which includes 120 beds and approximately the same number of daytime spaces.

Campbell said 30 people have secured housing and 15 more have returned to living arrangements with their families.

However, municipal funding for the Winter Response expires on May 31.

An extension until July 31 would allow city staff time to analyze an unsolicited proposal by Ark Aid Street Mission to continue offering year-round support services until more service hubs open as part of London’s Whole of Community Response to Homelessness.

“For $6 million we can do year-round services that would pivot between encampment supports, drop-in spaces, basic needs provision, encampment depots, and of course the inclement weather [response],” explained Campbell.

Hiring staff and bringing new locations up to building code standards has become an annual cost for the temporary shelter program.

Campbell’s proposal estimates that a year-round service would save 25 per cent on a monthly basis.

“I’ve seen that proposal. I think there’s merit in it. So does the mayor,” said Lewis. “We’re looking for a little bit of time to have staff fully evaluate the proposal, but keep the existing services going until we can make that change over.”

The letter from Morgan and Lewis reads, “It is imperative that this proposal is thoroughly assessed to ensure it is right-sized, refined, and aligned with our broader homelessness strategy.”

In November, Lewis was strongly opposed to the Ark operating a Winter Response location inside the former daycare behind Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church on William Street.

Last week he had a tour of the facility and witnessed the results.

“I’m happy to be proven wrong in this case because they’ve done a good job. They’re getting results,” he admitted. “The church is really functioning as a bit of a transitional bed space. They are actually getting people into housing.”

Only two service hubs have opened as part of the city’s Whole of Community Response to Homelessness — and the timing to open a third is unknown.

Campbell said the shelter has incorporated a hubs-type model as much as possible.

“We know that the model can work. I believe that we’re actually demonstrating the effectiveness of the hubs plan,” she said.

“It has proven itself to be a good stopgap measure until we’re able to get the full system up and running,” Lewis added.

The Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee will consider the mayor and deputy mayor’s letter at its meeting on May 7.

Council will make a final decision May 14. 

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