Confronting Homelessness in London, Ontario

Nov. 23, 2010

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Author: 
Abe Oudshoorn - Guest Blogger

Homelessness in London is hidden to most of us, as it is relegated to a limited area, and few people sleep on the streets like they might in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver. However, it is no small concern, with London having more than 600 shelter beds, the London InterCommunity Health Centre’s Health Outreach for People who are Homeless having well over 1000 clients, and countless numbers of people living in precarious housing situations such as couch-surfing or group homes (for more stats on homelessness in Canada, see http://www.abeoudshoorn.com/blog/?p=35).

Homelessness is a complex experience, with the causes of homelessness being almost as plentiful as the number of people who experience it. Although mental illness and addictions are relevant factors, less than 60% of homeless persons experience a mental illness, and less than 40% experience an addiction (for more on the causes of homelessness, see http://www.abeoudshoorn.com/blog/?p=66). It is important to note that for 90% of people who experience it, homelessness is not a chronic state, but a temporary transition. This means that we need to continue to support agencies that work with homeless people, to make sure that as many people as possible exit homelessness as quickly as possible.

So, this leads to the question of what you as an individual can do to help address homelessness in London? It depends on your skills, resources, and commitment, but here are some suggestions:

  • Contribute financially to any one of the shelters, such as Mission Services of London, the Salvation Army Centre of Hope, AtˆLohsa Native Family Healing Services, the Women’s Community House or Unity Project
  • Give a donation of food or clothing directly to an agency that works with homeless people such as the London InterCommunity Health Centre, the London Coffee House, or the Youth Action Centre
  • Volunteer on a continual basis (one time volunteer experiences will be good for your own learning, but are not very meaningful in terms of relationship building, a key component of truly affecting change around homelessness) for one of the shelters above, the London Coffee House, or at a food program such as the Ark Aid Street Mission
  • Engage with your City Councillor to ask them what they are doing to address homelessness, and encourage them to continue to support and expand municipally funded programs that address homelessness such as London CAReS
  • Show respect to panhandlers on the street, either giving them change (see http://tiny.cc/72zen for more on this issue), or making eye contact and kindly saying, “No, sorry.”
  • Vote for politicians and parties that will address the affordable housing crisis in Canada
  • Have friends who are of a different socioeconomic status than yourself

These are small steps, but I believe that if we can grow public will to eliminate homelessness in our city by assisting everyone out of it (as opposed to driving it away through criminalizing poverty), political will is bound to follow. This is essential, as homelessness is something we actually choose to have in our city based on our health and social policies.

Abe Oudshoorn is a Registered Nurse and a professor of Nursing at The University of Western Ontario. Abe’s clinical experience and academic research focuses on health and homelessness. Abe blogs at www.abeoudshoorn.com/blog, would be happy to hear from you at aoudshoo [at] uwo [dot] ca, or can be followed at twitter @abeoudshoorn.