Developing our new strategic plan during the pandemic highlighted the importance of communicating the complexity of homelessness. It can happen to anyone. We recognize many people do not understand what it means to experience homelessness, how the daily experiences of violence when living on the streets compounds existing trauma, and what it takes to achieve safe, stable, supportive, affordable housing. This is especially true of individuals experiencing homelessness who have complex needs, such as serious physical or mental health concerns, addiction, and trauma. That is our niche as an organization: to work with individuals experiencing homelessness who have underlying trauma, the most complex needs, and experience the greatest degree of marginalization.
The pandemic also revealed our compassion as we came to see one another as individuals, shifting from an attitude of “we’re all in the same boat” to recognizing not everyone’s boat was the same and, in fact, some in our community struggled to find a boat. This challenge continues – to see there is not one face of homelessness in London, but many: the veteran haunted by memories of combat, couples who cannot find work, single parents caring for their children, individuals struggling with untreated mental health and addiction, individuals who are new to the streets, and individuals who have lived on the streets for years. The stories of homelessness are multi-faceted, requiring community connection and community action.
Working in our niche is not just about providing appropriate services and supports. It is also about shining a light on homelessness and helping to build widespread support to solve homelessness. This means doing our part to support the City’s initiatives to solve homelessness and championing a broader understanding of the challenges and diversity of homelessness in London.
Communicating the complexity of homelessness requires curiosity, care, and vulnerability. It asks us to see the person experiencing homelessness instead of pretending they are invisible and to sit in the discomfort of privilege as we learn from people with diverse life experiences. It requires data and the perspective of lived experiences to inform discussions, and it invites us to build empathy as we connect beyond the issues to the people. It helps us see that offering a bottle of water to someone living on the street is more than nourishing the body; it is initiating relationship. The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the importance of human connection. Sometimes those connections start when we say, “Hello,” offer a small kindness, and begin a conversation. In those moments, we are humanized and become visible to one another.
These community conversations about homelessness are vital, fostering a powerful virtuous cycle: sparking community support for sustainable action, encouraging a shift to seeing homelessness as a failure of systems rather than individuals, decreasing the stigma of homelessness, helping to move individuals experiencing homelessness from the margins of society and re-membering them as part of the wider community, and mobilizing our community for action. Through these generative conversations, we will catalyze our community’s work to solve homelessness in London.
It’s hard to turn a corner when you live on the street. Further, the longer you experience homelessness, the more you are marginalized, the more invisible you become, and the more difficult it can be to access support, especially if that support crosses multiple organizations and systems. At the micro and macro levels, homelessness interventions do more than “get people off the streets”; they identify and address the interwoven issues that prevent someone from being or staying housed.
Our current systems struggle to provide coordinated responses for individuals experiencing homelessness, especially individuals with the highest acuity (i.e., individuals with the most complex needs and greatest degree of marginalization). While many organizations are working to solve homelessness in different ways, our challenge to effectively and efficiently coordinate means individuals can fall through the gaps. As we work to reduce system duplications and provide effective and efficient supports, we must take a population-based approach to solving homelessness, reducing inequalities in health status between population groups and generating equitable solutions with respect to housing, safe spaces, and basic needs.
Collaboration and coordination are essential to build sustainable systemic solutions. Finding such solutions requires creative thinking, a willingness to innovate, and deep listening and dialogue among all actors in the system – community leaders, service providers, individuals with lived or living experience of homelessness, community members, and allies.
At London Cares, we will continue to explore promising practices to better assist individuals experiencing homelessness with high acuity. We compassionately meet people where they are at, adapting with agility to provide responsive service delivery with imagination, resilience, and grit. We are committed to helping individuals who cannot access services elsewhere by developing safe spaces to meet basic needs, such as resting spaces, shelter, food, and washrooms. We are also committed to being strong systems partners, focusing on the population we serve, advocating for their needs, and being part of and championing a systems response to homelessness.
As we seamlessly integrate supports and services, we will continue to work across systems and sectors, dialogue with partners, and amplify the voices of individuals on the margins of our community. In building seamless supports from street to home, we will foster greater equity for individuals experiencing homelessness who are highly marginalized so they, too, have choices, supports, and experience belonging.
Community can call our general number at 519-667-2273 if they are concerned about any individual experiencing homelessness in London. Our team responds to community distress calls, helps individuals not dressed appropriately for the weather, assists individuals with system navigation, and more. Our team manages approximately 500 calls for service a month to support individuals that sleep rough in our community.
Please note: if it appears as though someone is not breathing, call 911 immediately.
Street Outreach is a Housing First service that supports individuals in the initial phase of housing. Our street outreach team meets individuals experiencing homelessness where they are at and completes Housing First intake paperwork, as well as provides in-the-moment service navigation and housing supports. After the initial meeting, our street outreach team works with the City of London’s Coordinate Access team to support individuals in locating long-term housing with or without supports. Our team will then work on personalized individual plans with participants to try to meet their in-the-moment needs. This includes, but is not limited to, medical support, basic needs, legal support, connection to family and friends, emergency shelter, and mental health support.
Our street outreach team attempts to divert from emergency services in several ways. For diversion from police, hospital, and EMS services, our team conducts diversion by attending crisis calls that require a supportive approach. Our team will try to link individuals in crisis to a number of community resources, including emergency shelter, crisis supports, community supports, and community medical resources.
The London Cares Resting Space is a low-barrier, temporary shelter that supports individuals that may not succeed in a traditional emergency shelter. We support individuals that sleep outside (due to personal choice or restrictions) to access an indoor space. The Resting Space uses a harm reduction and Housing First approach to support individuals of all genders, couples, and individuals that have pets.
A street outreach team that works in community 24 hours a day, 7 days a week supporting individuals sleeping rough or urban camping.
A resting space program that supports approximately 270 unique individuals a month to be able to access shelter space at night and a drop-in space during the day.
A housing selection program that supports individuals in locating, obtaining, and maintaining their tenancy by working with and supporting landlords.
A housing stability program that supports approximately 100 individuals within the community. The housing stability team supports individuals as they transition from homelessness to being housed. Once in the new home, their role is to provide support in stabilizing individuals through intensive case management while wrapping around community supports and creating an individual support plan.
Our agency also has a veterans case manager that works to support and maintaining housing for veterans who have experienced homelessness in our community. The veterans case manager has expertise and works closely with The Royal Canadian Legion and Veterans Affairs Canada to ensure veterans are able to get the supports they are so richly entitled to.
The City of London has a syringe pick-up program for public spaces. If you find sharps in the community, please call: 519-661-2489 ext. 4965. This number is answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For additional information on safe disposal of sharps, please visit the Middlesex-London Health Unit or the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection websites.
The street outreach team must conduct their work on public property unless a trespass order has been signed and an individual is part of the Coordinated Informed Response (CIR) program. If an individual experiencing homelessness is camped on your property, we can make a plan to meet them on public property or you will need to engage with the London Police Service.
Our street outreach team does not have the authority to enforce individuals to move from private property. However, our team can come out and chat with the individual if they are experiencing homelessness and encourage them to access different resources. Our team can provide alternative solutions, such as community supports, shelter, drop-in spaces, etc.
London’s homelessness crisis is grave and has been exacerbated by other systemic emergencies, including: a housing crisis, including a dire lack of safe, stable, affordable housing and no specialized housing with a harm reduction, low-barrier approach; the opioid crisis; poverty; and untreated mental health, often as a result of personal trauma. Systemically, there are discrimination barriers, structural inequities, and under-resourced or inaccessible community supports and policy barriers. Additionally, there is a lack of public understanding, stigma, the challenges of working with hard-to-serve marginalized populations, and now, the challenge of a global pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities in our community and stratified the community as we came to see more clearly the impacts of homelessness and the privilege of home. We recognized the inequitable access to basic needs and who in our community was without shelter, food, and access to washrooms or showers as many of the supports in our community went into lockdown.
Homelessness response is tough work. It requires dedication, patience, flexibility, compassion, skill, and resilience to accompany individuals experiencing homelessness and stand with community partners, allies, and leaders. The work is high pressure, high stakes, and hard, lacking the perks of other jobs. There is no quiet office, desk, or chair. For outreach workers, their office is the street, and their equipment is a backpack and cell phone.
Our work requires an empowered and supported team that is ready to serve. We are grateful for the skill, dedication, and passion our team members demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. We honour their commitment to our program participants and community and want to contribute to their continued wellness. We recognize the stronger we are as an organization, the better we can effect change in the lives of individuals, systems, and our community. To do this, we need to invest in skilled, engaged employees, a positive culture, diverse financial resources, and clear policies, procedures, and practices that support our day-to-day operations.
Diversifying and expanding our revenue streams equips us with more stable funding to deliver essential functions and exceptional services. Like other agencies, we work with a mantra of “do more with less” and recognize the inherent tension of limited resources coupled with increasing demands for service. We must balance being responsive to the needs of the people we serve and our staff with the necessity of responsible budget management in a time of fiscal constraint. This is not viable in the long run. Robust financial resources are needed to better balance our agility in responding to the needs of program participants with recognizing the impact this dexterity has on our staff. Sustained agile responses require more sustainable resources.
EDUCATION AND ADVOCACY
The resources below provide more information about homelessness.