Should London declare a state of emergency over its housing crisis?

More and more voices are saying that the housing crisis in London has become an emergency.

An online petition launched by the London Region Social Forum (LRSF) is urging City Hall to declare a housing emergency, similar to declarations made following natural disasters.

“This is an emergency. I don’t know how else to put it,” explains Dirka Prout, a member of the LRSF.

The petition highlights rising rents, years of waiting lists for council housing and deaths this year among London’s rising number of people living without shelter.

The aim of the petition reads: “By declaring a state of emergency, the city will be able to access provincial and federal government resources that can help prevent more deaths and suffering in the City of London.”

Prout would like some communities to be offered access similar to senior government funding at the height of the COVID pandemic.

“When they declared a state of emergency, dialogue with the province and even the federal government will unlock additional funds, so we hope something similar happens in this case,” she adds.

However, Mayor Josh Morgan says declaring a state of emergency would not achieve the petition’s goals.

“We wouldn’t access any resource that we don’t already have access to now,” Morgan explains. “I would see this primarily as a political maneuver and not something that would noticeably move the needle forward.”

He adds that certain criteria must be met before a declaration can be made.

“Declaring an emergency is a very specific tool under the Act, done under specific guidance from the Emergency Response Group,” Morgan says.

“This is an emergency. People are dying,” Gary Turner tells CTV News. “Just last night someone came to my door at 2 a.m. because they didn’t have warm blankets and they’re sleeping in a tent.”

Turner lives in a Conestoga cabin he built after being unable to find accommodation in London.

He believes that an explanation could have direct and indirect benefits.

“If you declare it an emergency, more people will pay attention and provide resources to try to help,” Turner says.

A few other Ontario communities have declared states of emergency related to homelessness, including the city of Ottawa in 2020 and Peterborough earlier this year.

“It might be something other cities need to do to raise awareness of the problem, but I can tell you that in London we’re practically pretending it’s an emergency,” Morgan says.

The mayor points to this week’s homelessness summit, which brought together more than 60 organizations and agencies to work on a comprehensive city-wide strategy.

London Herald