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Homeless advocacy group hosts community open mic as negotiations with the city continue | CBC News

A group advocating for people experiencing homelessness in London, Ont. held a community open mic night Thursday, while some of its other members attended a lengthy meeting with officials at city hall. 

The Forgotten 519 drew a crowd of about 70 people who came to stand in solidarity with the city’s most vulnerable. The event had people reading poetry, making speeches, and performing songs.

The man conducting a hunger strike, which started Tuesday morning, was also in attendance. 

Thursday’s meeting between the coalition’s representatives, local agencies, and city officials was the first of two planned working sessions, led by a third party facilitator. The purpose was to share experiences and discuss ideas for immediate action on how to help those living on the streets of London. 

The meeting, which was initially planned to run about two hours, went well into the later part of the evening, with no information on whether a consensus was reached or not. 

“A lot of work has been done through the afternoon and it will continue. We’re encouraged by the collective willingness to identify solutions. There are no further updates at this time,” said Patti McKague, director of communications for the city, in a late evening email.

Michelle Boissonneault knows what life on the streets of London is like, all too well. She came out to support others who are struggling with the same challenges that she used to while experiencing homelessness. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Michelle Boissonneault came out in support of those who live like she once did. Prior to 2019, she says lived without shelter for more than two years while struggling with her mental health and addiction issues.

“I went through some things I wouldn’t even wish upon my worst enemies,” she said. “I’m tired of seeing my legitimate friends who I was on the streets with, dying, and hearing about it two weeks later. It’s crushing.” 

Boissonneault said she used to go sleep crying every night and waking up in distress the next day, wondering which of her items were stolen, adding that she turned her life around after connecting with outreach workers who supported and showed her that her life mattered. It’s a form of support she hopes other people living on the streets can also have.

Everyone belongs

Debra Franke is a writer and poet who performed a spoken word to honour her late friend, Jessica Beacham, whose body was found in the Thames River late last month. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Debra Franke performed a spoken word poem honouring late friend Jessica Beacham, whose body was found in the Thames River in late July. Beacham’s death spurred action among front-line workers, who then formed the Forgotten 519.

“We miss her deeply, and we just want to remember her as much as we can, and continue to make her proud by fighting for others who also need to be taken care of,” Franke said. 

Franke says she’s very hopeful that the meeting between the group and the city will go well and they’ll come to a common resolution. 

Local artists also did some chalk art on the sidewalks depicting London as the forest city where there’s shelter for everyone and where everyone belongs, they said. 

Chalk art drawn by community members depicting London as a forest city, with enough shelter for everyone. (Isha Bhargava/CBC)

Being a Londoner her entire life, Angie Turbill says she’s known the unfortunate realities of homelessness in the city from a young age. 

Turbill recalled an experience from her childhood where she came across a person eating out of a garbage can and she wondered what circumstances would drive a person to do that, she said. 

Although she’s unsure what the results of the meeting will be, Turbill remains hopeful that the city can take action to support its most vulnerable population. 

“When you have people who support you, things get done,” she said. “I think the more Londoners who can rally behind this have a capability to step in and have these voices heard, because that’s the only way people will listen.” 

The Forgotten 519’s demands include:

  • An immediate end to the removal of homeless encampments in city parks, along the Thames Valley Parkway and in empty parking lots and derelict properties.
  • More support from city relief workers at homeless encampments
  • The creation of two indoor spaces — one downtown and the other in the east-end — in order to provide 24/7 support for unsheltered people.

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