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By Cory Davies

Why do we have homelessness in London? Who are those experiencing homelessness? What supports are being sought by those experiencing homelessness?

On May 1 in the St. John the Evangalist sanctuary in London, Dr. Abe Oudshoorn, the Chair of the London Homeless Coalition, and Cheryl Morrison from the Rothhome Women’s and Family Shelter, addressed the above questions. Rev. Deacon John Thompson chaired the panel. Terence Kernaghan, MPP for London, also spoke to the audience.

Dr. Oudshoorn laid out the history of social policy in Canada pointing out that decreased federal investment in social housing since 1986 has created homelessness as we see it today.

He identified key moments in the downloading of housing from the feds to the provinces, and from provinces to municipalities. During the Thatcher, Reagan, and Mulroney eras, recessions and austerity caused this downloading with increasing disastrous results to this day.

Abe challenged us to view homelessness as a crisis of our own creation. He demonstrated the relationship between housing and social support (or their absence) and their impact on homelessness. Shelters are NOT the answer to homelessness. HOUSING IS, concluded Dr. Oudshoorn.

Many are homeless because of abuse, addiction or mental health issues. The addictions only increase with the pain of homelessness. The average age of death for those living in shelter is 47. Abe laid out that housing support needs including flexible and affordable places, trauma informed care, tenant security, on-site supports etc.

Finally, he introduced the idea of homelessness prevention to bring the discussion to a close with a consideration of local, provincial and national policies. He argued that “homelessness is a terminal condition unless treated with housing.” Then he told the story of Jeff who had been homeless for years. Jeff’s health drove him to hospital emergencies in London 20 times a month.

Abe and others finally were able to find a home for Jeff and work with him so that he could function in his own unit. He now visits the hospital once a month for his ongoing health issues.

Housing first, is Dr. Oudshoorn’s recommendation when it comes to addressing the problem of homelessness. It makes more economic sense to provide housing than police, hospital and prison services. And it allows individuals a new, safer, and more hopeful life.

In a shorter presentation, Cheryl Morrison began by saying that those who are experiencing homelessness are not who we think they are.

She sees two types of families at the Rothhome shelter for families: local families and families from all over the world (who are often rerouted from Quebec). Marriage breakdowns, loss of jobs, injuries and disabilities bring these families to Mission Services.

As there are fewer affordable housing spaces available and more landlords who refuse to take families on social assistance, the length of their stays at Rothhome have doubled in the last few years.

Cheryl pointed out that the supports being sought by these families are Housing First, schools for kids, ID replacement, medical follow-ups…

We have homelessness in London because of a lack of affordable housing, concluded Morrison. The average price of a one bedroom apartment is now $990.00 per month.

Terence Kernaghan, MPP for London, summarized the situation in London by pointing out that shaming and blaming has no place in addressing homelessness. We all need to work together on contacting out politicians on this issue and on placing housing first.

St. John the Evangelist’s Outreach asks Londoners to learn about poverty and homelessness in the city and to dispel the myths around these increasingly complex issues.

The Outreach has sponsored two panels to date and is now ready to move into individual and parish action.

The next panel is announced for October 2, 2019 in the sanctuary at 7 p.m. The guest speaker will be Julie Ryan from Indwell, a faith based housing group, who will talk about housing the vulnerable in a new housing initiative in London.

Cory Davies is the Chair of St. John’s Outreach.