A friend recently asked for some of the basics on housing and homelessness in London, here’s what I sent him:
Our best estimate is that on any given night in London, 2000 are homeless. This represents 600 in shelter and transitional housing, about 20 sleeping rough, many women trading sex for a place to stay, those in hospital and jail with no-fixed-address, and the hidden 1000 or so who are couch surfing. This, of course, depends on the definition of homelessness used. An important point is that although 2000 are homeless on any night, for most it is a transitional experience, and a recent project in London identified just over 10,000 Londoners who were homeless at least 1 night of the year.
In terms of housing, there are just over 3000 families on the wait-list, representing approximately 4300 individuals. The wait-list is 1-2 years for those who are high need (example: children, and women fleeing abuse), and 8.3 years for the general wait-list. The current Housing Strategy is to create 1000 new units over the next 5 years, although the fiscal plan only predicts 450 over the next 3 years, and the new plan that takes into consideration the cut predicts just 115 new units over the next 2 years. The thing about housing is that the City doesn’t actually build, but provides funds to private or non-profit entities that approach the City to build. With the money currently in the reserve fund the City will match provincial and federal dollars granted to builders over the next 2 years, but will be unable to do so in years 3-5 of the plan. It’s currently looking unlikely that we will achieve even half the goal of 1000 units. This means that with the continued increase of those on OW and ODSP, the wait-list is likely to grow, creating a bubble of homeless people who are homeless simply because they cannot afford housing. Over the past five years we added 873 units, bringing the total units (representing various delivery models from rent-subsidy to public housing) to 8,060. As the new units are built by independent developers and organizations, they can target particular groups, such as recent buildings for seniors, First Nations people, and adults with disabilities. The City does not mandate this, only that they units be at a maximum of 80% of market rent, and preferably 70%.
In terms of causes of homelessness, other than the obvious lack of housing, complicating factors are that about 2/3rds are experiencing a mental illness, and 1/3 are experiencing an addiction. These individuals often require not just affordable housing, but affordable housing with supports. This is challenging, as no level of government or government department is currently focusing on supporting people in their home, outside of the Ministry of Health program for seniors, Aging at Home.