Volume 96, Issue 69
Friday, January 31, 2003

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Homeless shelter to be approved

By Pierre Hamilton
Gazette Staff

After a long struggle with London's City Council, the Unity Project is one step closer to the realization of a permanent homeless shelter in London.

The $249,000 funding proposal put forth by the Unity Project is close to being approved, despite initial concerns which followed the release of a city report citing the potential duplication of services provided by more established shelters in London.

The Unity Project is a peer-based, self-support model that provides an alternative for people who would rather sleep on the street than be subject to the strict rules and regulations of typical shelters, explained project director Lawrence Boom.

According to Rob Alder, Ward 2 city councillor, a staff report documenting problems with the proposal, in addition to questions concerning the calibre and credentials of Unity Project staff in dealing with issues of mental illness, forced him to initially reject the funding proposal.

Alder said he believed the funding given to the Salvation Army and Mission Services would make the additional beds provided by the Unity Project unnecessary by the year 2004.

"The reality of the situation is that there is somebody outside, it's -10 C and it's not OK," Boom explained, adding many of the people who find themselves at the Unity Project are recommended by other local shelters who do not have the space to house them.

After the community rallied behind the project, city council reversed their motion to reject the proposal. Alder said, after numerous calls from his constituents, he was compelled to reverse his initial response to the proposal.

The proposal will fund the creation of 20 beds, 10 of which are secured for people with some type of employment, while 10 for those with no other place to go. When fully operational, the Unity Project will gain emergency shelter status, granting the project additional funding from the government, Boom explained.

Despite the alternative approach available, life at the Unity Project is still subject to certain regulations to govern the behaviour of its residents.

Matthew Hills, a fourth-year English and media, information, and technoculture student, offered his opinion on the differences between government and privately run programs. "If it is a government run program, they feel the need to place a lot of unfair restrictions on the users, such as curfews and mandatory substance abuse programs," Hills explained.

While the proposal requires some fine-tuning and final approval of its business plan, Boom said he expects the full backing of city councillors when the proposal goes before council next week.

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