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Homeless data for London, Ont. and the bleak picture it continues to paint

At any given time in London, Ont., there are roughly 1,700 to 2,100 people confirmed to be experiencing homelessness. Of those, about 600 are considered “high acuity,” meaning they require a high level of supports.

Meanwhile, the number of encampments in the city nearly tripled between June and November 2023. And while over 400 households have been placed in housing where rent is geared to income, the waitlist is still nearly 7,000.

A report heading to city council’s community and protective services committee next week provides a snapshot of data on homelessness in London and also spells out what information is not available.

Much of the data comes from the city’s By-Name List, a list of everyone connecting with homelessness services in the community who consents to have a file built with their name, homeless history, health and housing needs.

According to the city, at least 19 per cent of those experiencing homeless are Indigenous, but city staff are confident the figure is likely closer to 30 per cent.

“Some considerations for why this number is lower … is due to the likelihood of individuals not self identifying as Indigenous,” city staff say.

“Many factors could prevent someone from identifying as Indigenous. These may include past and ongoing experiences of racism, trauma associated with ongoing effects of colonization, etc.”

As well, one per cent, or between 17 and 21 homeless individuals at any given time, are confirmed veterans.

The vast majority are between the ages of 25 and 59 (37 per cent each for those aged 25-39 and 40-59) while 14 per cent of those are 16-24 and 12 per cent are 60 or older.

Twelve per cent of those experiencing homeless have been homeless for at least six months, or have been homeless for at least 18 months total in the last three years.

Of those on the by-name list, 61 per cent are listed as male, 36 per cent female and only two per cent gender queer, gender non-conforming, transgender or two-spirit.

“Civic administration believes this number is also an underrepresentation. This is likely due to past and ongoing discrimination.”

Over the course of 2023, there were on average at least 350 people at any given time living “unsheltered,” meaning they did not stay in an emergency shelter at all.

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At their height in November, there were 103 active encampments in the city, though it’s unknown how many tents there were. That’s up from 38 in June 2023.

However, city staff note that the data is limited by the fact that people are required to give their consent to be included and it requires that people engage with services at all. There could be people experiencing homelessness who never connect with city of London services and therefore are not counted.

City staff say, based on the available data, there is no credible evidence that people experiencing homelessness are being shipped to London from other municipalities. However, they admit limitations in the data.

“I don’t accept that it’s not happening. It has been happening. It has been happening for years,” said deputy mayor Shawn Lewis.

“That is a problem of data tracking, not the fact that the problem isn’t happening.”

Last summer, Lewis alleged that dozens of those living on the streets were being shipped to the city, many of them under false pretense.

In a letter to his city colleagues, he highlighted municipal data that showed 319 people arriving from outside the city in the first half of 2023 seeking homelessness support services had been sent back to communities “where they have a natural support network.” Of those 319 individuals, he said more than 25 per cent were initially “sent here against their will, or under false pretenses, by various individuals and organizations from outside London.” He claimed the data came from city staff going through the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS).

In the latest report heading to committee next week, staff say homelessness data comes from two main places: HIFIS and the Customer Relations Management system (CRM).

HIFIS is a national, cloud-based shared database with information including demographic information and service involvement information. The CRM system is used by local programs to track contacts and follow-ups and includes mapping of encampment locations.

However, staff stress that the data isn’t perfect. If people aren’t interacting with service providers, then there won’t be any data on them, and some people experiencing homelessness may not disclose information.

According to the available data, 663 people from outside of London contacted a London-led service seeking assistance in 2023.

“There is currently not a standard practice used by all agencies for collecting information about people coming into London under false pretenses, against their will or details about their relocation from other communities,” the report states.

The only data that has information about how long people have been in London is through the city’s Community Outreach Program. In 2023, there were 4,364 “interactions” and, of those, 1,357 chose to disclose how long they had been in London.

According to that data, 55 interactions involved someone who self-reported having been in the city for less than six months (roughly four per cent of total interactions), 56 self-identified as having been in the city between six months and two years, and the rest who chose to answer said they had been in the city for more than two years.

“Civic Administration has no confidence in this data to be able to determine if individuals who self identified their length of time in London are here against their will or under false pretenses,” the report states.

Anecdotally, Lewis said the issue seems to have lessened in the last six months or so, which he said he believes is in part due to public discourse about “the fact that there are no shelter beds here, there is no housing here, that we have no inventory.”

He added that he intends to push for more information-gathering going forward.

“I think we are not tough enough in in terms of saying to people, you need to provide this information,” he said.

“It’s not about not being willing to help people, but it is about the importance of tracking where folks are coming from so we can identify if the problem is actually no services in other communities.”

The report also shows that London has a vacancy rate of just one per cent for units at or below average market rent and 2.1 per cent for the whole rental market. According to the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, a vacancy rate between three and five per cent is considered healthy.

The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit in the city is $1,584, according to the report. However, the January 2024 report from rentals.ca lists the average cost for a one bedroom unit at $1,854 in London, the 16th most expensive in the country.

City staff say there were 6,982 people waiting for rent geared to income housing. As of Dec. 31, 419 households from the list were housed.

At this week’s state of the city address, Mayor Josh Morgan spoke about a new financial incentive program to convert unused office space into residential units. He said almost 30 per cent of office space is currently vacant.

The program is not entirely novel. Calgary has a long-standing office conversion program borne out of a sky-high office vacancy rate following the 2014 energy crisis that has been described by CBRE as “very successful.”

— with files from Global News’ Sawyer Bogdan. 


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