London

There are probably 60 homeless camps in London right now

It's a number that many might find shocking -- London bylaw officers deal with up to 60 homeless camps in an average week.

Bylaw officers say they visit a minimum of eight locations a day

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. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

It's a number that many might find shocking -- London bylaw officers deal with up to 60 homeless camps in an average week. 

On an average day shift, the city's bylaw officers visit a minimum of eight locations of possible encampments, said bylaw manager Heather Chapman. 

The camps are set up in the city's parks, along the Thames River and in neighbourhoods such as the downtown. Some have tents, others use tarps. Many of those living in the camps have few belongings; those they do have are moved from place to place in shopping carts. 

One of the more surprising places an encampment has set up is right outside the city's largest homeless shelter, the Salvation Army Centre of Hope, at the intersection of Wellington and Horton streets. Camps run along Wellington, one of the city's busiest streets, and some are hidden on Bathurst Street, which runs behind the Centre of Hope, along the railroad tracks. 

"As the weather gets nicer, we find there are more people camping. A lot of the time it is a choice," said Nancy Powers, the interim executive director of the Centre of Hope. 

That sentiment was echoed by some of the people CBC News spoke with on Tuesday outside the shelter. 

Some said they'd been kicked out of the shelter for disruptive behaviour, and others said they didn't want to leave partners or pets to go into shelter. All said they could not find a place to live that they could afford. 

The city has been running a pilot project called 'informed response,' which sees bylaw officers work with city housing officials and London Cares to make sure people living in makeshift camps aren't just evicted and charged, but rather helped. 

The people CBC News interviewed outside the Centre of Hope spoke highly of the work London Cares has been doing, but said being told to move was destructive, particularly when there is no place to go. 

London's major shelters are often at capacity, officials say.