Small tweak, big impact: What can London do to immediately to help the vulnerable?

Sometimes, social problems such as poverty, homelessness or mental illness seem big enough to be insurmountable. All three levels of government have tried to reduce poverty, and yet 81,000 Londoners live on low income. We asked what small change could be done to help.

We asked those who work with London's most vulnerable about what small change could make a big difference

One in five kids in London live in households that live on low income, as defined by Statistics Canada. (CBC)

There have been studies, panels and millions of dollars allocated to fight poverty, homelessness and mental illness in London. 

And yet, one in five kids in London reside in a household that makes barely enough to live on, according to the latest census data.

About 81,000 citizens are considered low income. 

So, we asked those who work with London's most vulnerable: What is your one idea that would help people living with addiction, in poverty or with mental illness? 

We asked that it be something that's a "small tweak", a quick solution that can be done at the municipal level. 

Here's what people told us: 

Scott Courtice

Executive Director, London Intercommunity Health Centre

We're hoping the next Mayor and Council re-affirms the City of London's commitment to ending chronic homelessness within 10 years. We're currently experiencing a tight supply of affordable housing, which is a significant concern for people struggling with poverty and all of its associated harms. I'd suggest that the next Council implement 'inclusionary zoning' (IZ) in London to create more supply of affordable units. This is a new land-use planning tool that has been granted to cities by the province through the planning act. IZ allows a city to require a certain percentage of affordable housing units to be included in new developments. The idea is for the units to seamlessly blend in with the rest of the development, which creates a healthy mixed community, and does not stigmatize people living in the affordable units.

Cheryl Forchuk

Poverty, mental health and addiction researcher, Lawson Research Institute

Currently a big challenges for people living with mental illness, including addiction, and poverty is access to affordable, appropriate housing. This problem can prolong hospitalization and lead to homelessness. With extremely low vacancy rates in London, this problem is increasing. While the City of London can (and should) explore opportunities to increase public housing stock, we also need to increase access to the private market. We need more incentives for landlords such as the availability of rent supplements and support for potential damage. More access to private rental housing will also allow people greater opportunity to locate in neighbourhoods where they have connections.

Kelly Ziegner

Executive Director, United Way Elgin Middlesex

London has done a good job at attracting business to the outer edges of the city. We're in an enviable spot with good jobs and people who need them. Now we need to make the transit connection so workers can get there reliably and safely. United Way recently partnered with the LTC and LEDC (London Economic Development Corporation) to host a transit summit as part of the City's London for All initiative to end poverty. Businesses worked together to align shifts, identify best routes and stops, and address safety concerns like lights and sidewalks. There's a plan in place to bring transit to industrial parks. If the City and industry champion it, new bus routes could lead to a big gain: stable incomes that lift people out of poverty.

Glen Pearson

Co-founder, London Food Bank

At both the Poverty Research Centre and the food bank, we continue to encounter people on the margins who can't keep up with their phone bill, so for much of the time they are without a phone or communication. That then creates a storm of other problems — lack of contact with doctors, schools, job interviews, transport schedules, or even friends for support.  It would be good if some kind of affordable plan could be established that would permit people of low income to afford data plans for both their phones and the Internet.  As much as we require such things to lead productive lives, they require them even more, given all that they are up against.

Abe Oudshoorn

Nurse and member of London Homeless Coalition

A small but fundamental tweak would be to change London Middlesex Community Housing from a social housing landlord to a supportive housing provider. As many of their tenants have experienced homelessness, and many will experience ongoing struggles while housed, it is vital that the right supports are provided in home to prevent returns to homelessness. On site support can focus on mental health, substance addiction, trauma and safety, and other risk factors for being de-housed. This makes social housing a site of homelessness prevention.

Dr. Chris Mackie

Medical officer of health, Middlesex London Health Unit

Kindness is the small tweak that would make a big difference. It's free, though it can be hard for some to give. Hate, anger, abuse, and violence harm both the giver and the receiver, and often have big long-term costs – mental health care to overcome abuse, for example, is expensive. Basic human kindness can help open people up to caring for themselves, and making major positive changes.