Homeless hubs plan receives endorsement from London, Ont. councillors – London

The city’s first significant portion of the Health and Homelessness Whole of Community Response cleared a major hurdle Monday evening as councillors voted to endorse the proposed collaborative hubs implementation plan at a special committee meeting.

Members of the strategic priorities and policy committee (SPPC) – which includes all councillors – voted in favour of the hubs plan, paving the way for city staff to begin the procurement process of selecting the locations of the first five hubs and obtaining funding.

The vote represents the most significant endorsement of the Whole of Community Response since it was initiated last fall.

“When it comes to improving the lives of marginalized Londoners, the community at large and area businesses, I do not think we will ever have a better chance to do what’s before us right now,” said Mayor Josh Morgan.

The votes on the subject were split in three, with the endorsement of the plan receiving an 11-4 vote. Couns. Peter Cuddy, Susan Stevenson, Steven Hillier and Paul Van Meerbergen voted against the endorsement.

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The vote on going forward with the procurement of locations was 12-3, with Hillier the lone vote change to yes. The vote on the remaining matters, including finding funding and a slew of additional motions added during the meeting was 14-1, with Hillier the lone no.

The plan, as reported by Global News last week, seeks to create the first three to five of up to 15 hubs that will service those most acutely in need of a safe space to get them off the streets, stabilized, and eventually into housing.

Each of the first five hubs is estimated to cost $2.7 million to operate annually, with an additional $2 million in capital costs to set up. The 24-hour-a-day hubs will have around six staff during the day and five overnight, offering many services, including basic necessities like food and bedding, housing and employment supports, medical care and justice system services.

Ahead of the debate, co-chairs of the hub’s plan presented to committee members why they believe the proposed system is needed.

Some of the key takeaways from city staff and co-chairs include that the projected budget is the total costs, not the costs to the city, as more funding partners and avenues will be used; a central principle of the hubs will be they are seen as a place for stabilization before transitioning to housing; and that the most or all of the first hubs will be located on private property as opposed to municipal.

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City staff said “success” will be measured broadly, but the most basic principles will be through fewer people dying, fewer encampments and more people housed.

“Delays in this aren’t measured by days, they are measured by deaths,” said Morgan, referencing a statement made during his State of the City.

Most councillors spoke in favour of the plan, with those like Coun. Anna Hopkins and Sam Trosow stating their belief other municipalities in Ontario will likely follow London’s path should the plan work as intended.

However, there were some skeptics, with Coun. Susan Stevenson focusing on the length of stays users might have due to lacking housing units in the city and if a hub where drug use would be permitted would be “safe.” Cuddy also raised concern with safety in the hubs, stating he is unsure if they would be much different from currently used shelters that he says some avoid.

Around two hours into the debate, Coun. Meerbergen put a motion on the floor to refer the matter to another special SPPC meeting in August that would include a public participation meeting. Van Meerbergen argued the public needed more consultation time.

However, several councillors, including the mayor and deputy mayor, argued against such a referral, with some saying there was no time to lose on the matter. City staff said a referral would likely push the opening of the hubs from December into possibly February. The referral motion failed 4-11.

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The motions added on during the meeting included the pausing of outstanding business loan payments until 2026 to allow businesses to continue to recover, directing staff and Mayor Morgan to advocate for a provincial addictions rehabilitation site in London, appointing the mayor and budget to the strategy and accountability table for the Whole of Community System response; and continuing to host community engagement sessions through the implementation process.

The passed motion by the SPPC will go before regular council Tuesday, where it is expected to pass given that the committee’s makeup is identical to council. The council meeting will begin at 1 p.m.

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