As Councillor for Ward 13, I am very much aware of the concerns of so many Londoners relating to individuals and families experiencing homelessness, addiction and mental health. I am listening to the “street-involved”, and the services and advocates working alongside them, as well as to London’s residents, business owners and service providers. There doesn’t seem to be much agreement, even within the various sectors. I think it is fair to say that we can and do agree that we have a serious crisis that requires a dedicated and coordinated response. I applaud all those who are trying to make a difference. It is time to ask ourselves perhaps the essential question:  How do we fix or solve homelessness? Not just the crisis of the day, but for the future.

Having the opportunity to work with many organizations and services over the years, it’s fair to say that everyone cares, and we have some incredible service providers and advocates.  How do we bring people together to compassionately confront perhaps the largest health and humanity crisis of our modern era? We saw during the pandemic how multiple sectors were resourced and how they worked together to assemble significant responses in a remarkably short period of time. Much has been accomplished and much is being done. But it is time to step it up to create a unified voice to the national and local priority it needs to be. All levels of government, all funders, healthcare professionals, the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, along with the individuals and families with lived experience - it is inherent on all of us to work towards better outcomes for all.

We are not alone in this and communities across Canada (and beyond our borders) are working on sustainable solutions. London has made great strides in our homeless prevention efforts but much of that was brought to a halt due to the pandemic. It took the wind out of our sails, or blew us all over the map, so to speak. Post pandemic, we are trying to gain our footing again, looking to build on a recovery model that works for everyone. We know COVID is not over . . . it’s not simply a light switch, and the reminder and fallout of this infectious disease will be with us for another decade.

Lately, I have repeatedly had people tell me about their “compassion fatigue”. Caring is slowly being eroded, replaced by a discounting of our most vulnerable. Frustration, anger and even hostility has been added to the anguish and tensions. With negative and competing behaviours we will not be able to solve anything together – yet we must come together.

I have been made aware of rumblings and activities surrounding how to deal with the recent surge in the number of individuals and families who are street-involved. My broader concern is around groups or individuals deciding to take matters into their own hands.

There are programs that are working.

Attempting to remove an encampment or individuals can be tricky at the best of times. Working with individuals in crisis, who may be self-medicating and/or vulnerable requires specialized skills and care to prevent an escalation or harm. Bluntly, not only is it unsafe to take matters into one’s own hands, it is also unwise. I can’t stress enough that should you or someone you know be affected by an encampment or individual, contact [email protected] and ask for assistance. Please visit the Service London portal to report needles; or contact Dispatch at 519-661-4965. This phone number is answered 24 hours/day, 7 days/week. City staff, in co-ordination with the relevant city partners, will work together to respond.

Let’s give our Co-ordinated Informed Response Team (CIR) the opportunity to work with the right organizations to safely address the situation and come up with a plan. These trained professionals understand the challenges and have access to a range of services should they be needed. The CIR is your first line of defense against unsafe or unhealthy situations and encampments.

There is not a simple or even a perfect solution. All the while, individuals are suffering, with some dying, and communities feel at risk. We can and must work together, form alliances and foster shared safe responses to effectively deal with this health and community crisis.

For those wanting to be a part of change, consider volunteering to any number of services such as food banks, meal programs, the Thames Valley Cleanup, or any of the many services that have a volunteer program. Consider donating money to an organization that is serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness. You can truly make a difference.

I do appreciate the frustration on all sides. What I can tell you honestly: there is no single answer.  If there was, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. We need to stop pointing fingers and determine viable solutions to address the challenges of our most vulnerable. With that, I ask that you stay safe, stay healthy, and reach out to the city if you require assistance. Together, as a caring community we can make it work!

If you are interested in more information about efforts to solve homelessness check:

John Fyfe-Millar

About

Candidate for London City Councillor Ward 13, Community Champion, Entrepreneur, Listener, Family Man, Believer, Londoner to the Core – Let's talk about tomorrow