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'People are dying': Memorial service held for homeless Londoners who have passed away

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A small memorial service held in front of London City Hall Monday intended to send a message to politicians, the plans to solve the homeless crisis need to move more quickly.

“I understand that things take time, but while that time ticks away, people are dying,” says Gary ‘Gaz’ Turner, the organizer of the memorial service.

“People are suffering, people are struggling and there's a lot of organizations out there that are ready to step up and help.”

Turner, who has lived in a Conestoga hut for the past two years has known many of the more than 300 people front-line workers estimate who have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

Turner created white ribbons, which were placed on the lawn in front of City Hall. Some of them had names of homeless Londoners known to have passed away.

“That’s just a rough estimate,” says Turner.

“The numbers are probably a lot higher than that.”

Ribbons were placed on the ground outside of London City Hall on Monday May 20, 2024. Each ribbon represents a homeless Londoner who has passed away since 2020. (Source: Brent Lale/CTV London)

One of those who passed away in 2022 was Jessica Beacham. Honouring her Monday was Carrie Butt, who has worked for various organizations dealing with the homeless.

“She (Beacham) was staying with family in Woodstock, living in recovery, had to attend to a police matter in London,” says Butt.

“She was supposed to get transported back to Woodstock, but that didn't end up happening. She unfortunately relapsed and, was on the street. A couple days later they found her body in the Thames River.”

While Beacham’s story became public, there are many others who pass away on a monthly basis without their names or stories ever reaching the public.

“I'm not sure if people are aware that there are hundreds of people who have died here in London waiting for services,” says Butt.

Carrie Butt wears a shirt with a photo of Jessica Beacham. Beacham passed away in 2022 in London Ont. (Source: Brent Lale/CTV News London)

The city planned to have five hubs open by the end of 2023. At this point, only two are open. Meanwhile funding for a number of agencies that serve the homeless and others with the need for services are running out of funding.

“We've come so close to doing better,” says Turner.

“We're on that precipice, and I just want to make sure that we go in the right direction.”

Turner believes the Hubs are “not the worst idea” because they do provide a roof over someone’s head.

“At the same time, when your plans are things like the Black Pearl Inn or Wellington Street where, you know, these plans were probably never going to materialize,” says Turner.

“I'm sure they knew that, because we knew that. If you're going to come up with an idea, at least come up with something as viable.”

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