An agreement between city officials and a coalition of frontline homelessness workers has ended a hunger strike on the steps of city hall.
#TheForgotten519 coalition, the city and agencies involved in the discussions announced the end of the strike late Friday afternoon.
It appears most of the coalition’s demands to change how the city approaches homeless encampments were met. There’s also a commitment to plan new “shelter supports” before winter.
“The solutions outline key actions and timelines to help ensure people in encampments receive immediate support,” a news release from the coalition, city hall and city organizations. says.
“Highlights in this plan include a shift in the response to encampments to focus on outreach and support first, with by-law involvement only at their request; greater involvement of front-line workers in encampments; additional resources such as providing showers and increasing water provided; additional training for municipal law enforcement officers; and agreed upon parameters that will guide when and how an encampment is removed.”
A meeting for what the agreements refer to as “24/7 supports” will being in mid August, the statement says.
“The goal is to have a plan ready within four weeks,” the release says.
The hunger strike by outreach worker and coalition member Dan Oudshoorn began Tuesday, in protest of city strategies that seem to do little to prevent deaths of London’s most vulnerable homeless people, those living outside because of complex medical, physical and mental health challenges.
At least 34 people experiencing homelessness have died this year, after 74 the year before, the coalition says.
The coalition demanded the city stop moving homeless people out of their encampments on empty lots, fields and the river, saying that puts them at greater risk and traumatizes people already dealing with trauma. The coalition also wanted the city’s core response unit to focus less on bylaw enforcement and more on care of homeless people. Finally, the coalition wants the city to set up two new shelters.
City officials at first insisted they only remove large and dangerous encampments, that the core unit does focus on helping people and that there aren’t resources for two new shelters.
But representatives from the city, the coalition and community agencies spent the past two days negotiating an end to the hunger strike.
“I feel a whole mix of emotions,” Oudshoorn said as the strike ended. “I am overjoyed to see the way the community has come together. I am so relieved we are doing a new course of action. I also feel very sad about all the people I know who have died because it took so long for this change to come.”
Because he hasn’t eaten for a week, soup is the first thing on the menu. But then he wants a burger, ribs and all you can eat buffet, Oudshoorn said.
“TheForgotten519 are overwhelmed and grateful to their community that made these urgent actions possible,” a statement from the coalition said. “We have seen the power of the collective voice of the front lines and how this can achieve change. While this isn’t the way it has always been done, it was a clear demonstration that these things were needed and achievable.”
Kevin Dickins, deputy city manager of social and health development, said the conversations the past two days were difficult but the perspective of front-line workers was essential.
“Through the sessions, both yesterday and today, we have identified steps we can take – at the city and across the system – to better support people who are experiencing homelessness, addictions and episodic mental health challenges,” he said in a statement.
London Cares outreach was one of the agencies involved in the discussions.
“We appreciate the commitment and flexibility of everyone as we work quickly with immediate responses and look to the short term future for more medium and long term solutions,” Anne Armstrong, executive director, said in a statement.