LONDON - Dear Ministers MacLeod and Clark,
We are writing to you as London-area MPPs to bring attention to the lack of resources available to Londoners currently experiencing homelessness. Ontario has endured extremely cold weather over the last several weeks, highlighting the city’s desperate need for shelter, supports, and accessible housing options. It is shameful that some Ontarians do not have access to shelter, a basic human right.
A report from the City of London estimated that over 400 Londoners currently use emergency shelters. The number experiencing homelessness, however, is closer to 800. Individuals experiencing homelessness in London comprise some of Ontario’s most marginalized communities. At least 59 per cent of homeless individuals reported experiencing mental health issues, and 57 per cent said they struggle with addiction. Indigenous peoples make up 2.6 per cent of London’s overall population, yet nearly 30 per cent of the city’s homeless identify as Indigenous.
Further, a number of smaller, nearby municipalities such as Chatham, Stratford, St. Thomas, Sarnia, Tillsonburg, Dorchester, and other neighbouring towns rely on London, the closest urban centre, to provide support to their local homeless populations. People traveling to London in search of respite often find the city’s shelters overcrowded, or full. The shelters themselves struggle to accommodate the influx of people, many of whom seek increasingly long stays. London’s Centre of Hope, for example, often reaches capacity, while the Rotholme Women’s and Family Shelter operates at nearly 200 per cent capacity during peak periods. A lack of funding recently prompted Rotholme to announce it can no longer assist families when experiencing an overflow. Without government investment, there is a very real danger that more families will be left out in the cold during upcoming winter nights.
The strain we’re seeing on London shelters has been created by a host of issues. These include the city’s severe shortage of affordable housing, a lack of job opportunities that pay a living wage and chronic underfunding of mental health services. With vacancy rates in London hovering around one per cent, it is a challenge to find somewhere to live. In 2017, London’s waitlist for affordable housing increased by 34 per cent. Currently, the waitlist contains over 4,700 names. Only about half of working Londoners have secure or stable employment, and the city’s employment rate is lower than both the provincial and national average. These issues were ignored by the previous Liberal government, and have gone from bad to worse under Doug Ford.
The provincial government cut $330 million from a planned investment in mental health services, and scrapped the $15-minimum wage, meaning the current minimum wage falls short of the $15.53 calculated as an appropriate living wage for London. It was recently reported that the government might make it easier for landlords to evict tenants, which would also make it easier for landlords to raise rental prices.
Patiently waiting for a solution is no longer an option. We have brought London’s housing crisis to your attention numerous times in the legislature. We first described Rotholme’s overcrowded conditions on July 23, 2018, and we requested provincial funds to improve shelter conditions on October 3. We reiterated these needs on October 17, sharing the shocking statistic that almost half of all London tenants spend more than 30 per cent of their monthly income on rent. Despite repeated calls for action, the government has not taken any tangible steps to address these issues. By failing to address our concerns, the government is ignoring vulnerable people across Southwestern Ontario.
While the people Doug Ford trades favours with are getting million-dollar appointments, and the very wealthiest Ontarians got a tax cut from the provincial government, too many people in our region struggle to access basic shelter. We call upon the government to invest in a provincial housing strategy, affordable housing, mental health services and well-paying jobs. Further, we ask that the government immediately release emergency funds to London’s homelessness prevention system, including shelters, so that the latter are able to provide assistance to people in crisis. Sustained, reliable funding is critical if we are to address London’s housing and homelessness crisis. We look forward to your response.
Teresa Armstrong (MPP for London-Fanshawe)
Terence Kernaghan (MPP for London North Centre)
Peggy Sattler (MPP for London West)