As provincial election looms, those on London's streets have little hope for meaningful help

Many programs for homeless Londoners were funded by temporary COVID-19 homeless relief funding, which was not renewed in the budget presented earlier this week, which serves essentially as a blueprint for the Progressive Conservatives election platform. 

The provincial budget did not renew much-needed funding used for shelters and services

This ramshackle shelter was built in the trees about a dozen feet away from the Thames River in London, Ont. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

For Eric Malloy, the drop-in services run by the Ark Aid Mission this winter were a warm place to go, take a load off, and grab a bite to eat — a comfortable place to rest instead of the apartment doorways he usually sleeps in. 

Those programs are now closed. They were funded by temporary COVID-19 homeless relief funding, which was not renewed in the budget presented by the Progressive Convservatives earlier this week, which serves essentially as a blueprint for their election platform. 

"The government doesn't do (anything) for me," said Malloy outside of a London Cares resting space on Dundas Street. 

"When I had a place to stay, I was getting closer to $900 a month. Now I only get $342 a month for a street allowance because if you don't have a place to live, they take away the money that was supposed to be for rent. It's disgusting," he said. 

Having so little money keeps him in a cycle of poverty and homelessness that he can't get out of, Malloy said. 

"It doesn't help. You can't get a job. It doesn't help any of us be able to do anything, all it really does is aggravate us, makes us meaner, and it makes us have to do things that normal people don't have to do." 

Homeless funding critical

Interim London Mayor Josh Morgan said he was disappointed that social services relief fund money wasn't in the budget. It allowed the city to open two 50-bed shelters for the last two winters, giving people additional places to stay with services and resources to help them find health care and housing. 

"Certainly, that is important money that allows us to address housing and homelessness for vulnerable populations," he said.

"There was not a renewal of the fund, so that means we will have to have an ongoing dialogue with the province on how to meet the challenges of housing and homelessness in our city." 

For Dr. Andrea Sereda, who works on the front lines of addiction and homelessness with the London InterCommunity Heath Centre, the additional funding improved the situation of many who are struggling.

"We saw people who had been really, really struggling outside with a variety of health issues, and including often opioid use, get a lot better," she said. 

"And then what we saw when this funding ran out and many of those people returned to homelessness or housing deprivation, is that the issues we worked on so hard for two years suddenly get worse. And that really speaks to the bedrock cause of all of this being the fact that folks have to sleep outside."

The upcoming provincial election is unlikely to offer anything that will offer meaningful help for him and his friends, said Quinton Smith, who lives on London's streets and struggles with mental health problems and substance use.

"The (YMCA drop-in centre) was pretty good, but they closed it down. There are still some churches open but you don't know which ones. We need showers and a place to get clothes. It's hard to live when you're always in the rain," Smith said. 

The friendly faces of workers at drop-in services for homeless people are a welcome respite from people who treat him like a bad person, said Malloy, and he wishes there were more such resources. 

"You can't go to work because I walk the street all day long. It's frustrating," he said. 

The Liberals have pledged to develop a living wage structure that corresponds to where in the province someone lives, and to raise the minimum wage to $16 per hour by 2023. 

The NDP has pledged to increase Ontario Works and ODSP rates by 20 per cent, index raises to inflation, and restart a basic income pilot project. 

They've also said they'd build 100,000 units of social housing in the next 10 years and update 260,000 units to extend their lifespan. They'd increase the minimum wage to $16 per hour now and to $20 per hour by 2026.