More than 60 London agencies gathered under one roof on Wednesday in a bid to collectively come up with a new plan to tackle the city’s housing and homelessness crisis, which many concede has become worse in recent years.
The meeting at the Hellenic Centre in the city’s south end was the third of three housing summits recently held to bring together service agencies, city staff and people from the development industry to try and come up with new ways to help the growing numbers of people facing homelessness, addiction and mental health challenges.
Participants told CBC News that a new strategy has been reached, although its details were not made public. In broad strokes, they said the new plan strives to break down “silos” between different agencies and create an approach that involves multiple agencies working together.
This is seen as a break from the past where participants said too often multiple groups, often guided by differing mandates, were working at cross purposes.
“Today we were looking at a broad, complete system redesign, which is really what needs to happen,” said Dr. Andrea Sereda, who provides frontline care for vulnerable people at the London InterCommunity Health Centre.
“We know that the systems we have in place in London and in most medium- and large-sized cities in Ontario are not working for those who are living in homelessness right now,” she said. “I think it’s courageous of the entire group to say, ‘This is not working, we need to wipe the slate clean, and we need to completely redesign our efforts.'”
So what does that look like?
Sereda said previous responses were sometimes designed without input from people with a direct connection to the reality on the streets.
“This time, frontline worker input is considered imperative, along with people with lived experiences,” she said.
London city manager Lynne Livingstone said everyone involved acknowledges that London’s homelessness problem needs new approaches.
“When we work collaboratively, really good outcomes happen for people,” said Livingstone. “So let’s do that at a system level, let’s bring all of what we do and work it that way. That’s part of the system transformation that’s been discussed.”
Brad Campbell, an administrator with London Health Sciences Centre, said the “commitment to work together in a different way” is the biggest new development to come from Wednesday’s meeting.
“The stars are aligning, and things are different now,” he said.
Jessica Manzara of London InterCommunity Health Centre said she believes the integration of the supports — everything from housing to addiction supports — will be the most significant step forward.
“This is the beginning of something wonderful,” she said. “What we’re really seeing through this new draft is how integrated our supports will be.”
During the Mayor’s state of the city speech, it was announced that a London family has anonymously donated $25 million “fund for change” toward helping with housing.
The money is being managed by the London Community Foundation.
Marcus Plowright, a London realtor who worked with the donor family to create the fund, said he’ll be working with community leaders “to determine where the funds should be directed”‘ based in part on the priorities identified in Wednesday’s meeting.
“Because we have ready access to capital, we can get these things happening much quicker and bring assistance to the community that desperately needs it,” he said.
Plowright also echoed what many at the meeting said: That senior governments will need to “catch up” and boost their contributions to a problem that spans into healthcare and other areas of responsibility.
Livingstone said the plan would be presented to council for approval at the Feb. 28 meeting of the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee. It will become public in the days leading up to the committee when the agendas are made public.