When the People Speak and Governments Listen

I reflect back on the budget process for the City of London in the spring of 2013. At the time City Council was pushing a 0% municipal tax increase, and as part of this proposed removing a $1 million contribution to the affordable housing reserve fund. This funding is in place so that when new affordable housing is shovel ready, the municipal contribution is there (see http://abeoudshoorn.com/blog-news/?p=816 for more details).

Aghast at such a proposal, we started a 3 month long process to mobilize the community and prevent this cut. We wrote letters, blog posts, made videos, did media interviews, went to public participation meetings, contacted our councilors, and spent countless hours educating, protesting, and ultimately defeating this decision. At the time I considered this effort one of our greatest financial community victories, worth $1,000,000 towards helping people find home, and really all it meant was preserving the same level of investment as the year before.

That feels like so long ago. At that time I had spent the past few years trying to elevate the issue of homelessness into the public consciousness, just letting people know that it exists in London and is a problem. The community and governments began to listen and said, “Ok, we acknowledge this as a problem, what should we do about it?” What indeed? We needed to increase our level of sophistication from awareness to problem solving, and so we did.

Indeed, we have moved from awareness to solving homelessness together in London. This is a big task, but our agencies, our community members, and those experiencing homelessness have expressed a common vision and are doing the hard work to make it happen. We are moving from helping people find shelter to helping them find home. And it’s working. However, as with any system transformation, more investment was needed. So we are doing our end of the bargain, demonstrating ability and commitment to making change and asked governments to do theirs, providing the resources to make the change possible.

We pushed and pushed hard, not just municipally around the new multi-year budget, but provincially, making clear that the provincial poverty reduction strategy needed to include ending homelessness. And we pushed federally, showing that investments had remained unchanged since 1999. And we provided evidence, and we pushed, and we provided results, and we pushed. And at all three levels governments have listened and responded.

London’s 2016 budget has included new investments of $3.8 million towards solving homelessness and $2.1 million towards poverty reduction. Ontario’s 2016 provincial budget has included a $45 millionincrease over 3 years to Community Homelessness Partnering Initiative funding and a dedicated $10 million towards ending homelessness. The Canadian federal budget for 2016 has included a $111 million increase towards their Homelessness Partnering Strategy funding. All of these new investments are over and above existing funding, the federal one representing an almost 100% increase.

Our efforts have worked, we asked for more financial support and governments have provided it. Now it’s up to us to prove that we truly can solve homelessness together in London.

Dr. Abe Oudshoorn is an Assistant Professor in the Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing at Western University, the Department of Psychiatry Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and Associate Scientist with Lawson Health Research Institute.  Having worked as a nurse with people experiencing homelessness, Abe’s research focuses on health, homelessness, housing policy, and poverty.  Outside of the University, Abe has the privilege of Chairing the London Homeless Coalition, is a board member with the United Way of London & Middlesex, and sat on the Mayor’s Advisory Panel on Poverty.