London, Ontario: Does A Civic Emergency Require Light At The End Of The Tunnel?

Homeless people and their tents on a snowy morning backlit by sunlight
This scene was created by affordablehousingaction.org and is licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Ho Hum, Another Day, Another City Emergency. That’s what London, Ontario might be trying to sell in order the access federal and provincial funds available to cities that are forced to declare an emergency.

But to do so because of rising costs and increasing homelessness with absolutely no end in sight?

“This is an emergency. I don’t know how else to put it,” explains Dirka Prout, a member of the London Region Social Forum (LRSF) that is promoting an online petition to declare a city emergency.

Yes, but . . . mustn’t an emergency, no matter how dire, have some light at the end of the tunnel?

When the City of Ottawa declared an emergency in February, 2022, the city was occupied by a trucker’s demonstration that wouldn’t end. But eventually, it did.

And when Peterborough, Ontario declared a state of emergency in May, 2023, a violent storm had downed transmission lines and left thousands without power. The lines were restored and the power eventually came back on.

London’s mayor is doubtful that London would qualify for emergency funding based on a growing crisis of shelter and homelessness with no end in sight.

Gary Turner is inclined to disagree, putting the problem succinctly. “This is an emergency. People are dying.” Gary currently lives in a ‘conestoga hut’ — what might be called a ‘hard tent’ — a space secured by an actual door upon which freezing homeless compatriots have desperately banged1.

Sooner or later we can hope that people will pay more attention to the lived experience of homeless people, which seems to be largely ignored at the moment. Read more about the future of an emergency declaration in London2 at CTV News: Should London declare a state of emergency regarding its housing crisis?

Human Rights Perspective

The United Nations’ guidance on the Right To Adequate Housing states that governments should put a priority on ending homelessness, which is a prima facie (which means ‘obvious’) denial of the right to adequate housing. The guidance supports listening to and acting on the voices of people with experience of homelessness.

The guidance also suggests other ways that decision makers and advocates in London (and elsewhere) could avoid a deadlock and move forward in their discussions. For example, it recognizes that all levels of government need to work together to end homelessness. Declaring an emergency may not be acceptable to decision makers in London. But the advocates have a point: London’s council wants to end homelessness and should be getting help and support from other levels of government.  

Footnotes

  1. For more on Gary and the Conestoga hut he’s helping to develop, see this article at CTV News:  “It’s been surprisingly much more comfortable than I was expecting.” Micro-shelters get a test-run in London
  2. London is not alone. Other communities need ‘people dying’ levels of emergency help and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.