Memorial service honours the lives of 57 Londoners who died as a result of homelessness
15 have died since August hunger strike to prevent fatalities
On Friday, the London Homeless Coalition (LHC) honoured the lives of 57 people who have died as a result of homelessness in the past year.
A public memorial service — the ninth annual service of its kind — was held on Oct. 7, at 12 p.m., at the Covent Garden Market in London.
Advocacy groups say the deaths, while not all occurring during periods of homelessness, can each be attributed to homelessness as a direct cause. LHC arrived at the figure of 57 through their death notification protocol. It identifies individuals who have been part of the affordable housing system, have a history of homelessness, or who are currently homeless, that have died as a result of their homelessness.
"Not all of those individuals might have been homeless at the time of their death and that number is not complete because we don't have access to public health records," said Jaclyn Seeler, co-chair of the LHC.
"There could be individuals that were working with agencies that aren't part of our protocol, so that number could actually be higher."
In August, The Forgotten 519, a collective of frontline workers advocating for the city's most vulnerable, held a hunger strike on the steps of city hall, which resulted in efforts to prevent new deaths. Since then, 15 more deaths have been reported through LHC's protocol.
"We're in an absolute crisis, a housing crisis, a poverty crisis and equity crisis in London. We've seen the numbers of people existing outside absolutely swell since the spring," said Dr. Andrea Sereda, a member of The Forgotten 519.
"We're seeing larger encampments, and many faces that we've never seen before."
As the situation worsens, Sereda, who estimates there are roughly 400 to 500 people experiencing homelessness in London, continues to work as part of the community task force. That task force was organized by London Cares, supported by city hall and multiple other organizations to namely change how homeless encampments are handled, and to provide more support for the most vulnerable Londoners.
"The task force has been working incredibly hard since August to try to bring some creative ideas to the parameters that were set by The Forgotten 519 and agreed to by the City of London. It's coming together in the middle of October to review people's final suggestions and costing so that we can hopefully move this into action very, very soon," Sereda told CBC news.
With winter fast approaching, the task force and the City of London will have their hands full working on solutions to keep the vulnerable population warm. According to Seeler, the simple answer to this is getting as many people indoors as possible, and making sure spaces are available with food and support services.
"However, I think the bigger answer here is, our hope is that one day we're not having to look at balancing these kinds of needs. Our community is always having to balance this short-term reactive response by keeping people alive today, versus the long-term strategy that we require, to try and prevent homelessness from happening," she said.
"What we've seen with this pandemic is so much mobilization and so much coming together, not just talking about our community, but on a national scale really. It would be really nice to see that kind of same response to our housing crisis," said Seeler.
"We are honouring 57 deaths in one year because of this housing crisis that has been with us since before the pandemic and will continue long after the pandemic."