Even as most Londoners have been safely sheltering at home from a deadly virus, we are keenly aware that many people in our community have nowhere to call home. Their plight lands them huddling in doorways or in tents along the river, in unsafe housing situations, and too often, dead.
People experiencing homelessness are vulnerable in many ways; last year in London, twice as many people died while homeless than in 2019. Many more have experienced violence and other trauma. A recent Ontario study found that people experiencing homelessness are five times more likely to die from COVID-19.
The scope of the crisis in London shouldn’t lead us to apathy. Communities across the world have ended homelessness, and we can do it here in London, too.
Safe, affordable housing with supports, along with accessible mental health and addiction services, can transform lives. Belonging to a community and knowing that you matter to others can be a powerful catalyst for reengagement and empowerment.
Good things are happening in London. Late last year, the federal government made a billion more dollars available to support the rapid creation of affordable housing across Canada. The City of London has strengthened its “by-name” list to identify people who are experiencing homelessness – along with the supports they need to stay housed. And organizations are working together to provide emergency shelter, transitional housing, and permanent housing.
Indwell is one of several charitable and non-profit organizations in London creating affordable housing. Our tenants benefit from onsite supports such as health support, food security assistance, addictions support, and skill-building and social activities. Indwell’s multi-disciplinary staff teams, along with community partners and our tenants themselves, create an environment that fosters growth and encourages people to flourish. The pandemic restrictions have been particularly hard on people who struggle with loneliness and mental health challenges, but our staff has found innovative ways to support our tenants through this time of isolation.
Besides being the right thing to do morally, supportive housing is remarkably cost effective. A one-time capital investment creates beautiful, energy efficient housing. Provincial funding supplements staff salaries, providing tenants with timely support, reducing unnecessary hospitalization, and improving their lives. When hospitalization is required, people return home earlier because follow-up supports are already in place. These changes in health spending result in savings across our EMS, health and judicial systems and improve hospital wait times.
Recently I asked a tenant what had changed for her since she moved into Indwell’s downtown community 14 months ago.
The path toward better health, wellness, and belonging is not easy and is not usually straight. But this tenant’s journey speaks to the power of community, love, and care.