Homelessness as a Major Election Issue
It has been four months since the Ontario Big City Mayors, a collective of 29 mayors from cities with over 100,000 people, requested an emergency meeting with premier Doug Ford in order to discuss homelessness, mental health, and the opioid crisis. As of October, the premier has not responded to this request despite homelessness being the top concern for many Ontario municipalities.
With the London municipal election taking place on the 24th of October, homelessness and mental health has been reported as one of the major concerns for voters in a recent survey conducted by the London Chamber of Commerce. Over 66% of respondents said that developing a strategy to address homelessness and addiction in London is the most important step that we can take to revitalize the core of the city. The urgency of this issue was made even more clear as the London Free Press reported that 15 people have died in the city as a result of homelessness since a hunger strike that took place in August and 57 have died since this time last year (see link below). The estimated number of people currently living on the streets in London is 400 according to the same report. That is 400 people that will be facing the increasingly harsh weather as we approach winter; a season that is especially hard on the homeless population in Ontario.
While the solution to this issue will vary depending on the candidate, individuals running for mayor or city council will be expected to have a robust plan to tackle the problem. The reality is that Ontario cities, including London, do not currently have the resources to handle this issue in an appropriate manner. Not only does this pose a risk to the lives of the homeless, but to the well-being of others in the city. As many individuals struggle with addiction and mental health, they end up in the legal system and deter Londoners from returning to areas of the city. Respondents in the Chamber survey have suggested that many no longer feel comfortable in the downtown area and may not return until the city takes action on the issue of addiction and homelessness. The result of the city taking action will not only be a better sense of well-being for those facing homelessness but for all Londoners that visit the downtown core.