On his daily walks through downtown London, John Fyfe-Millar gets an up close — and at times personal — look at the challenges facing the Ontario city's core.
The minute he crosses the Thames River from his home in Blackfriars, he sees people sleeping in storefronts, some of whom appear to be struggling with mental health or addiction issues. In conversations with business owners, he hears their frustrations. Many London merchants now keep their front doors locked to control entry and protect staff and merchandise.
Fyfe-Millar: Might be time to try temporary tent city
Fyfe-Millar is running for re-election as councillor for Ward 13 along with three other candidates vying for the seat: David Ferriera, David Millie and Alexandria Hames. Fyfe-Millar moved into the vacant seat last fall in a controversial appointment that was approved by a slim 7-6 vote of council.
The 13th is unique among London's 14 wards in that its borders cover the bulk of the troubled downtown core. Whoever wins the seat becomes a lightning rod for all that ails the downtown.
In a survey of election issues, CBC London's audience overwhelmingly placed downtown issues — and the related problems of homelessness and housing affordability — as top priorities.
Fyfe-Millar has ideas about how to help the downtown, with a lot of focus on getting housing for those who sleep outside.
As a temporary measure, he suggests moving the scores of homeless encampments from wooded areas along the river and grouping them in one location.
The idea is to create a place with bathrooms, showers and above all, some security.
"We don't have the right solution today to solve this, but what we can do is create a safer environment for everyone," said Fyfe-Millar. "Encampments are not safe. People who are there get preyed upon by a lot of people ... a single woman living in a tent by the river, it is not a safe haven for her."
The tent city idea isn't one city staff have explored, but Fyfe-Millar said it's something that he'd look into if re-elected.
To boost the supply of available housing, he'd also like the city to strike agreements with developers that would require them to provide some new units at below-market rates. Legislation came into effect in September that put an end to bonusing. That process allowed the city to ask developers to provide extra amenities in exchange for building above height and density limits.
Increasingly in recent years, the city has used this process to call on developers to set aside some units as affordable. However, with bonusing now no more, there is now no mechanism in place to force developers to include affordable units in their plans.
"I think when you look at the development community right now, they recognize that housing, homelessness and people living on our street in the downtown is a hindrance to a successful downtown moving forward for them to develop in," said Fyfe-Millar.
Fyfe-Millar would also like to see more services used by those who sleep rough downtown to be spread to other areas of the city.
"I think a city-wide problem needs a city-wide solution."
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