London

Police fan out to ease downtown tensions and help most vulnerable

City law enforcement made their numbers known in downtown London Thursday, a day after a top city hall staffer said the core's social ills have reached their 'tipping point.'

Heightened patrols come same day city announces week-long clinic to help Londoners in need

Police officers speak to a homeless woman at Richmond and Dundas as part of an outreach effort to get vulnerable people connected with social services. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

A more visible police presence could be seen Thursday in downtown London as more frequent foot patrols swept across the core in a concentrated outreach effort to ease tensions between downtown merchants and the people who sleep rough, experience mental health issues and have drug addictions. 

The heightened patrols come the day after a top city bureaucrat described the social issues vexing the central business district as having reached their "tipping point."

John Fleming, the city's managing director of planning, made the comment Wednesday after the release of London's Core Area Action Plan, a 69-point blueprint aimed at addressing perceptions that the ongoing social ills have driven businesses out of a downtown that's widely seen as unsafe, especially after dark. 

It's why authorities are making their presence known, according to Inspector Bill Berg, the senior officer in charge of the London Police Service's foot patrol branch. 

Merchants dealing with recurring problems

London shopkeeper steps over needles and sleeping people on her way to work 1:10

"Some of the business owners have provided some feedback that they would like to see a more visible presence in the downtown core. They've had some problems," he said.

Those problems include litter, in the form of dirty needles and human excrement, vandalism to storefronts and staff having to step over people sleeping in alleyways behind local businesses. 

Berg said in many cases, the officers are there to put a face on the organization and reassure merchants that there are ways to get help for some of the people they see in crisis. 

"A big part of our goal is to make the appropriate referrals around addictions and mental health, the regular problems our officers see on a daily basis in the core," Berg said. "We're really trying to get a feeling for what the concerns are." 

Homelessness clinic at Silverwoods Park Arena

The City of London will establish a social services clinic at Silverwoods Park Arena starting Monday, where people can find social services, a meal, even a shower. (Google Streetview)

It's not just businesses police officers are speaking to. Berg said officers on foot patrol are also approaching people living on the street to help understand their point of view and, if necessary, help connect them with social services. 

Berg said many of the officers who have been enlisted for the heightened foot patrol were eager to do it. 

"They're out walking around, they're out talking to the public. This is why they do the job," he said. "It feels good." 

Part of what feels good is being able to offer people on the street the chance at a hand-up. As part of its action plan to address the ills in the core, the city will establish a week-long clinic for homeless people at Silverwoods Park Arena in the Trafalgar Street and Egerton Street area starting Monday. 

There, people will be able to access a number of social services, including housing, health, financial support and veterinary services. People will also get the chance to have meal, a haircut and even bathe for free. 

It's why officers are spreading the word, to let people know that the city will be providing transportation to Silverwood Arena for those who might have trouble getting there on their own. 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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