London, Ont. homelessness plan to go before councillors Feb. 28

Crosses sit outside London's City Hall on Aug. 2, 2022 as part of a memorial set up by local advocacy group The Forgotten 519 to honour lives lost among those experiencing homelessness. Andrew Graham / Global News

An upcoming plan that aims to deal with homelessness in London, Ont., will make its highly-anticipated city hall debut late next month.

The plan was first teased by Mayor Josh Morgan during his first-ever State of the City Address. He said it would create a “permanent and sustainable system” to help people experiencing homelessness.

Also attached to last week’s State of the City Address was news of a $25-million donation in support of the plan from an anonymous local family. The family has offered an additional $5 million if community donations can reach that amount.

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A draft version of the plan was finalized during a meeting on Wednesday of the Health and Homelessness Summit.

The summit consists of more than 200 people from over 60 organizations across various sectors in the city and Wednesday marked its third meeting.

A care facilitator at London InterCommunity Health Centre (LIHC), Jessica Manzara said she came away from the meeting feeling “quite hopeful.”

“A part of the conversation today was keeping our patients at the centre of this work and really focusing on a barrier-free, scarcity-free responsive system. I believe that we saw a draft (plan) that has the potential to afford that to our community members,” Manzara said.

In a presentation to the summit on Wednesday, Manzara shared her experience as someone working on the front lines of London’s homelessness crisis.

“My intention was to highlight the struggle and the beautiful work that happens on a front-line level that often times can be missed in some ways,” Manzara said, adding that she hopes her words illustrated the need to supply front-line organizations with the resources they require.

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City staff will present the plan before city councillors on Feb. 28, when the group of politicians meets as the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee, according to city manager Lynne Livingstone.

It will be the first time city councillors lay eyes on the plan, as they, along with all levels of politicians, were asked to not attend the summit’s meetings.

Livingstone says that request was made to foster an environment where summit members could have “very honest conversations about what we need to be doing.”

After seeking council approval on Feb. 28, Livingstone says staff will then look for further support from provincial and federal governments.

“Some of the things that we need additional resources to support are in the jurisdiction of the province or the federal government, so once we’ve been in front of council, then we will be putting ourselves in front of the province and federal government for some discussion,” Livingstone added.

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In the meantime, thousands of dollars have already been donated to the Health and Homelessness Fund for Change, a fund managed by the London Community Foundation that looks to tackle the $5 million challenge issued by the anonymous family.

“We are very heartened to know that after a few days of announcing the fund and doing no public relations and doing no communications whatsoever that more than 100 citizens came forward and made donations,” said Marcus Plowright, the lead volunteer in the initiative.

“We had even some lovely messages that came along with the donations — one from a 13-year-old who had a birthday party the week after the mayor’s announcement and solicited funds from his friends.”

After the plan is unveiled, Plowright says Londoners can expect to see “a very large communications strategy” that aims to make the fund an ongoing topic of discussion.

“Over the course of the next few months, we’ll see that momentum gather, we’ll have our list of priorities out of the summit, and we’ll start ensuring that we use our enormous resources from the fund to get things moving very quickly, to create change in the community very quickly,” Plowright said.

“More importantly, permanent change and permanent housing for those in need.”

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While the upcoming plan and the ongoing donations have inspired optimism, Manzara, the front-line worker with LIHC, says it’s important that Londoners remember what’s at stake for those experiencing homelessness.

“We’ve had multiple deaths already this year, we are in a position of a crisis and we have people on our streets right now who are struggling, who are sick and who need action today,” Manzara said.

“It’s so important that we stay focused.”

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