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'We were never going to get 15 hubs': Council members walk back expectations for homelessness strategy

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The slow rollout of London’s Whole of Community Response to Homelessness is now being openly discussed by city leaders less than a year and a half after its launch.

During Wednesday’s meeting of the Planning and Environment Committee (PEC), a rezoning application to permit a wider range of uses in the former radio station building at 743 Wellington Rd. included a reality check about the council-endorsed plan to address homelessness.

“We need leadership to what seems to be a sputtering vision for the homeless,” said Ross Rains who recently purchased the property. “Meanwhile, we have turned the page on hubs and we are pursuing other uses.”

Rains told the committee that his proposal to open a service hub for homeless Londoners was derailed by an application process that might not be finalized until this fall.

The Whole of Community Response to Homelessness was unveiled in February 2023 after a series of closed-door summit meetings by local agencies, civic administration, and stakeholders.

The comments made by Rains prompted Mike Wallace of the London Development Institute (LDI) to offer an update about efforts to find property owners willing to host a hub.

The lobbying organization for local developers admitted a lack of interest by most commercial property owners to host a hub.

“The vision was up to 15 hubs. That’s not ever going to happen,” Wallace admitted. “I think we are, in realistic terms, hoping that the city can get up to five.”

Last year the Whole of Community Response to Homelessness proposed creating up to 15 low-barrier service hubs where people living unhoused would stabilize before transitioning into a planned 600 units of highly-supportive housing.

So far just two hubs have opened, each serving a high priority population (youth and Indigenous people).

“We’re finding it hard to find suitable locations,” acknowledged Coun. Steve Lehman who chairs the planning committee. “We can see that today. Quite frankly, I think we’re finding it hard to find suitable operators or operators with expertise.”

Several committee members also expressed concern about the requirement that hub locations be zoned to permit so-called Emergency Care Establishments (ECE).

An ECE is defined for zoning purposes as, “a means of immediate, temporary accommodation and assistance for a short-term period, generally less than six weeks for the majority of the residents.”

“We put ourselves in a gray area with the six week definition,” warned Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis.

The supportive housing units created in the last year are fully occupied.

Until many more highly-supportive housing units are created, people staying in a hub might have to wait a long time until a housing unit becomes available.

“There’s only so much throughput that you can have from a hub if you don’t have housing units available for people to move into once they are stabilized,” Lewis told CTV News.

He believes the city might have to develop a special zoning description specific to hubs.

“What we’re trying to do is kind of pound a square peg into a round hole with the zoning around emergency care facilities, which are meant to generally be less than a six week stay,” Lewis explained.

And in the meantime, he’s blunt about the expectations created over a year ago versus the reality experienced today.

“We were never going to have 15 hubs,” he said. “Fifteen hubs was the Cadillac, or grandiose plan.” 

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