Temporary pandemic homeless shelter’s latest extension request met with calls for permanent site
LONDON, ONT. -- The crisis among Londoners experiencing homelessness won’t end when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, forcing city council to decide if a temporary shelter should be operated indefinitely.
“Another temporary extension, then another temporary extension, all dependent on provincial funding,” says Councillor Shawn Lewis. “We’re not working towards a more permanent solution, and that’s a concern for me.”
Lewis is a member of city council’s Community and Protective Services (CAPS) Committee.
Intended to shelter 20 to 25 people, the collection of modified construction trailers was set up as emergency winter shelter on a parking lot at the corner of York and Colborne.
Recently extended by council until June 30, city staff now recommend the shelter continue until the end December 31, by redirecting $1.15 million of provincial funding to the WISH to be Home Project, which operates the facility.
But advocates, including Ark Aid Street Mission and the WISH Project argue the six-month extension to the construction-trailer residences should be the launching point to a long-term facility.
“This amount of temporary that they’ve experienced since December until now, is for a lot of people, the longest time they’ve been in one place,” explains Gil Clelland of the WISH to be Home Project.
“We need to be thinking bigger system level, we need to be thinking longer term,” adds Sarah Campbell, Executive Director of Ark Aid Street Mission and co-coordinator of WISH Project.
Since early in the pandemic, city hall has been sheltering some people inside hotel and motel rooms using senior government funding, but according to Arc Aid Street Mission, that isn’t a solution for some people experiencing homelessness.
In a letter to council, Campbell says some residents felt the motels were inhospitable.
Specifically, “motel spaces have proven repeatedly to not be hospitable to our population, and where the physical space and landlords required a barriered and often demeaning approach to the sheltering people.”
She tells CTV News, “All of us community members can sometimes act in demeaning ways. It’s so important to look people in the eye, acknowledge folks, and to be kind.”
The Wish to be Home Project wants city hall’s partnership finding a permanent site in the city to those who need non-traditional, low-barrier-to-entry housing.
“Low barrier for sure, the idea that someone is welcome just because they are human,” says Clelland.
Councillor Lewis laments that a suggestion to explore low-barrier housing locations was rejected by council shortly before the pandemic.
“Councillor Van Holst and I had brought forward a motion seeking a location for Conestoga Huts that was shot down, we were told it wouldn’t be used. Now we’re basically doing the same thing with (construction) trailers.”
The CAPS committee will discuss how long to extend the York Street site on June 1.
Campbell is requesting to speak to the committee as a delegate.