Homelessness is a crisis a person experiences; it does not define the person.
Unity Project works to prevent and to end homelessness in providing emergency shelter, supportive housing, and housing stability services for adults and youth of all genders.
With the COVID-19 pandemic exposing systemic inequalities and disproportionately impacting our community’s most vulnerable, the need for Unity Project’s services has increased as have the demands upon us. We’ve shifted our emergency shelter operations to a hotel prioritizing seniors and those with prior health conditions which make them most vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus. We have doubled our occupancy in a space that keeps residents and staff safe through adequate social distancing. We’ve had to learn how to appropriately use masks, gloves and face shields, conduct daily screenings for COVID symptoms and conduct our engagements with residents by phone or in the hallway at the door to their rooms.
It’s been quite an adjustment but one we’ve been grateful to be able to make, with thanks to a swift and robust system response from the City of London that has, so far, kept COVID at bay from the homeless population.
Our community collectively moved quickly to establish new protocols and procedures for supporting people during this pandemic. From setting up comfort stations throughout the core of the city, to ensuring testing is available when it is needed, and that people have a place to self-isolate. We’ve seen creative solutions around safer supply and managed alcohol for people who use drugs and alcohol. There have been some serious collaborative efforts to take care of our city’s most marginalized.
But London is still in a housing and homelessness crisis.
What the pandemic has taught is that we are capable of quickly enacting broad systemic change. Homelessness and poverty are also a public health crisis that demands action and it’s one that will grow during this time if we don’t pay attention and do something about it.
If you are experiencing homelessness in Canada, you are more likely to have a chronic health condition and have less access to the necessary health care required to treat those conditions. You are more likely to be physically and sexually assaulted. You are more likely to die because you don’t have a home, with a life expectancy half that of someone who is adequately housed. And let’s not forget about the opioid crisis that disproportionately affects people living in poverty. In nearly four years from 2016 to 2019, over 14,000 people died from opioid overdose in Canada, with 17,000 more having to be hospitalized. And then of course there is the large number of people experiencing homelessness who are living with severely compromised mental health.
Homelessness is a crisis people experience it does not define the person and yet the moral and political will to treat it as such has been too little for too long. This demands action!
It’s time that we adopt a guaranteed income that allows for every person in Canada an opportunity to thrive. Ontario Works currently provides a maximum total of $733 per month to individuals in London? That’s less than half of what we have seen as necessary for people to survive financially in this pandemic. The $2000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit should be instated as a permanent policy that is accessible to everyone as a foundation for stability.
It’s time that we recognize the unique mental and physical health challenges that disproportionately affect people experiencing homelessness and poverty. We need to treat substance use as a health issue ensuring people have access to a safe supply of drugs and alcohol, expand access to safe consumption sites and an adequate system of treatment options so that people have the support they need.
It’s time that we put policies in place that ensures housing as a human right instead of the commodity it is today. Safe, affordable, and adequate housing is the foundation to any person’s ability to be to successful and should be guaranteed for everyone. It’s time that we stop seeing the lives of people without homes as less worthy of our attention and support.
We hope this message finds you healthy and well. We not only need your support through events such as UP Golf Classic to get us through and recover from this pandemic, but we need your attention and advocacy for long term solutions to homelessness.
Now is the time, and there is an appetite for change.
For more information about Unity Project for Relief of Homelessness in London, please visit www.unityproject.ca
Unity Project is a legal entity, incorporated not for profit in June 2002:
Unity Project for Relief of Homelessness in London, Inc.
Registered Canadian Charity # 859628851RR0001
717 Dundas Street
Canada N5W 2Z5
519 433 8700 ext. 201