The deputy mayor of London, Ont., is alleging that dozens of those living on the streets are being shipped to the city, many of them under false pretenses, and is urging for an end to the practice.
In a letter to his city colleagues, Shawn Lewis highlighted municipal data that shows 319 people arriving from outside the city in the first half of 2023 seeking homelessness support services have been sent back to communities “where they have a natural support network.”
Of those 319 individuals, more than 25 per cent were initially “sent here against their will, or under false pretenses, by various individuals and organizations from outside London.”
“That represents almost one person every other day,” Lewis explained in his letter.
He did not identify the individuals and or organizations allegedly sending people to London for the city’s homeless resources. But he did confirm to Global News that they are aware of some locations these people are coming from.
“I don’t think that it’s an organized effort on behalf of a municipal service provider, in any community, and I’m not even convinced that they’re intentionally trying to make the problem somebody else’s,” he said in an interview.
“I think in some cases, these may be organizations or individuals with really good intentions. But because they’re overwhelmed themselves, they may check a website, or do a quick Google search and say, ‘Oh, London has a lot of services, go to London, they can help you there,’ without doing the legwork to find out.”
Lewis added that the city’s “current social services are beyond capacity.”
“London cannot absorb all the needs of the province in terms of housing and homelessness, and no municipality can,” he said. “We’ve got 6,000 people on our housing wait-list (and) it’s going to be 10 years to house all those people.
“Just in the last couple of months, more than 200 people have been turned away at night because there have been no shelter beds available to them. That doesn’t even count the people we don’t know about who haven’t even tried to get a shelter bed, they’ve just given up,” Lewis continued. “Our services are not just beyond capacity, they’re really just broken at this point.”
He added that “we have to take responsibility in our own backyards and that starts with municipalities saying to the service agencies in their community, ‘if you are doing this, this has to stop. If you are doing this, and you’re caught doing it, there are going to be consequences.’”
On Thursday, Lewis said the information and recent data he provided in his letter came from city staff going through the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS).
Mat Daley, director of Information Technology and Services with the City of London, previously described HIFIS as a “comprehensive data collection and case management system” that is a federal standard. Locally, HIFIS receives data from 20 organizations supporting homelessness across the City of London.
Lewis said city staff “were able to go through that and pull out the number of individuals that had successful diversions.”
However, he stressed in the letter that “this is incomplete data,” saying that “it’s important to keep that in mind.”
“It does not represent those individuals who are not self-identifying as having been sent to London from another community,” he said. “Those who relocate to other communities of their own freewill, for whatever reason, is commonplace and not for us to pass judgment. However, those who are being moved against their will or under the false promise of available resources in London is at best grossly misinformed, and at worst inhumane.
“These actions must cease, and those engaging in this type of activity must be held to account.”
Lewis’s letter is set to be added to the agenda for next week’s strategic priorities and policy committee meeting, where he looks to seek support from his colleagues for the following motion:
That the Mayor and Government Relations staff be directed to :
a) undertake immediate advocacy efforts with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Ontario Big City Mayors Caucus, and the Government of Ontario to develop a united policy condemning the relocation of homeless individuals under false pretense or against their will;
b) And to further work with those partners to undertake the development of processes to stop this practice, including but not limited to the withdrawal of public funding, charitable, or not for profit status of any organization found to be actively engaged in such activities and/or the suspension of professional accreditation of individuals found to be engaged in such activities.
c) And to work with the province to develop a program by which those released from hospitals or detention centres are provided proper discharge planning that includes transportation back to their home communities.
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