St. Thomas a magnet for encampments

Local community leaders continue to grapple with a host of social issues raised – at least in part – by the migration of Ontario’s homeless population from Toronto to rural centres like Elgin County and St. Thomas.

The issue came to a head locally on July 18, when St. Thomas officials dismantled a Victor Drive homeless encampment and St. Thomas Police Service charged four people in connection with a violent assault near the makeshift camp. The police activity is reminiscent of scenes normally depicted in media reports from Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver.

“Several things (are attracting the homeless to southwestern Ontario),” Southwold Mayor Grant Jones said in an interview. “It’s way too cold up north, they prefer the south, and there are facilities for them (here) like Inn out of the Cold, all the services that we’re providing to them.” Inn Out of the Cold is a 40-bed shelter providing around-the-clock support and services.

“Food is accessible to some degree in dumpsters, methadone clinics, all that attracts them,” he said. “London, St. Thomas, that’s where they gravitate to because the services are there when they need them. My understanding is there are some of these encampments in a lot of the ravines, places where they can get out of the wind.”

More details in the Aug. 2 edition of The Aylmer Express.