London

London's homeless: Staff want to continue compassion-based approach

City staff say a pilot project has shown that moving away from an enforcement model is a more effective way to deal with people who sleep rough on London's streets and in other public areas.

Moving away from an enforcement model is working better, but will come at a cost

City of London staff say a pilot project last fall illustrated the benefits of using a more collaborative, compassionate approach when dealing with people sleeping rough outside. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

When it comes to dealing with people who struggle with addiction, mental health and homelessness on city streets and other public areas, City of London staff want to a move away from a "move along now" approach. 

In a report released Wednesday, staff are calling on council to back a strategy that puts a priority on compassion and collaboration of service agencies instead of enforcement. It's a model they say was proven effective during a 16-week pilot project last fall. 

Instead of calling police when dealing with complaints about street sleeping, disruptive behaviour and vandalism, during the pilot project staff would first talk to street-involved people about their needs and involve London Cares and other agencies to address their housing problem.

The new approach — called the Core Area Informed Response  — requires collaboration between everyone from the city's corporate security staff to parks workers. But the results were encouraging enough that staff want the pilot project to continue on a go-forward basis starting in April. 

City manager Martin Hayward said the enforcement model simply hasn't been effective in dealing with a complex problem that spans poverty, addiction and mental health. 

"If it was my family member out there, I'd want someone to put their arms around them and help them get them the treatment they need or the housing that they need," he said. "Moving them along just doesn't work and isn't a solution."

Staff say enforcement will still be part of some of the interactions, but will now be used only as a last resort.

Moving them along doesn't work and isn't a solution- London city manager Martin Hayward

A report will come to Monday's meeting of the city's strategic priorities and policy committee. It asks councillors to extend the core area informed response model through the rest of 2019, starting in April. 

But while the new approach is effective, it also comes with a price tag.

Implementing it for nine months will cost $1.25 million, money staff are recommending come from a reserve fund.

In the meantime, staff will put together a business case for the response to be included for permanent funding in the 2020-23 multiyear budget. 

And though the pilot project showed the benefits of a collaborative, compassion-based approach, it also highlighted the scope of London's problem. 

94 urban camps removed

During the pilot project:

  • Staff found 196 instances of people sleeping rough outside without shelter. 
  • Staff were able to connect 93 people with housing support.
  • A total of 94 urban campsites were removed, which included everything from people sleeping in makeshift tents, to shelters made of boxes.
  • 94 per cent of the people staff made contact with reported living with an addiction. 
  • 17 per cent said they had been living in London for less than six months. 

The pilot project also showed the problem isn't limited to the city's downtown core. Staff responded to complaints about makeshift shelters in other areas of the city, including along the Thames Valley Parkway and at the south end of Wellington Street near Highway 401. 

What can members of the public do?

Someone in danger or distress: call 911. 

Someone who appears to need help: London Cares can be called at 519-667-2273. Calls are answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

See an urban camp (makeshift shelter): Don't try to remove it. Report the location to: es@london.ca or call 519-661-4570. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

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