“London’s Underground – Part 6 – The Price Tag”

In this, the last of my series on London’s Underground, I focus on the estimated price tag of the Game Plan I proposed in Part 5.  At first glance, the price point outlined below seems high. I am not going to deny that such an intensive approach is going to be expensive.  However, I would ask that you keep the following points in mind.

  • This price tag includes a number of one-time investments, and the annual operating cost is lower than taxpayer’s current yearly contribution.
  • This plan seeks to improve the lives our most vulnerable and those most impacted by them. The current tax bill merely maintains the current and rather underwhelming approach.
  • This investment is not entirely incremental. I fully expect it to be realized by allocating budget from other, less impactful programs and services.

In regards to this last point, for the record, my budgeting philosophy of public funds is ‘near-net-zero’.  What that means is that I do not like investing in any new initiative or allocating a new dollar of spending without first trying to find an existing dollar and re-purposing to the new initiative (i.e. net-zero).  However, I am also realistic and recognize that a ‘net-zero’ tax promise is a foolish one.  Therefore, I budget to net-zero and then consider additional investments if the benefit associated with the expense warrants the additional dollars (hence the term ‘near-net-zero’).

It is a practice that we employed with considerable success when I served as Budget Chair for the London Police Services Board during this last contract negotiation with our Police Association (LPA).  During this last negotiation, our ‘near-net-zero’ approach realized a contract that resulted in the lowest year-over-year increase in police salaries in Ontario, and contributed to a full-day reduction in the level of absenteeism across the service.

In the cost breakdown below, the strategies and tactics are outlined complete with the estimated operating and capital investment required to deliver the overall strategy (in brackets).   This estimate is not entirely incremental.  It is expected that the budget would come first from existing programs and services that are no longer necessary/available before new investment is pursued.  It is also important to note that this budget does not distinguish yet between the program responsibilities of each level of government.   It is my contention that we first need to agree upon what we want to accomplish and then determine how to best pay for it.

To reiterate, the Plan’s Objectives are as follows:

  1. To recover, rehabilitate and re-engage 80-percent of individuals identified as members of London’s Underground (~400 members) within 24 months of an approved budget.
  2. To educate Londoners on the medical (i.e. mental health/addiction) issues confronting our Underground and: (i) secure their support for this continuum of care model in general and a results-oriented harm reduction initiative in particular. (ii) mobilize the community in this effort through purpose-based donations and volunteerism.
  3. To provide a clear, safe and supportive civic infrastructure for the most vulnerable members of our Underground, namely women, youth and our Indigenous citizens.

The Strategies and associated tactics focus on five areas, one of which (Greater support for Women, Youth and Indigenous Communities) will be the subject of a separate post and much greater detail in the coming weeks.  For now, I have included an incremental contribution to support additional resources and welcome any ideas, suggestions and feedback from service providers in this space.  This entire plan has been developed with the thoughtful input from subject matter experts in the field who are genuinely interested in resolving these problems.

Expanded Housing First Initiatives (Operating: $4MM, Capital: $12MM)

  • Increase the resource commitment and intensity of this program.
  • Expand the city’s affordable housing portfolio and social housing accommodations.
  • Redirect the city’s budget allocation from shelter support to the Housing First initiative.
  • Explore rent-subsidization and/or reduced property taxes for apartment providers in diverse neighbourhoods.
  • Incentivize builders to increase social and affordable housing stock through reduced development charges.
  • Consider introducing requirements for developers to direct a portion of their housing projects to include geared-to-income units.
  • Fast-tracking approved plans through the planning process.

Enhanced Harm Reduction/Education/Prevention (Operating: $4MM Capital: $3MM)

  • Intensification of police resources on drug distribution efforts and the identification of intervention candidates.
  • Expansion of the London CAReS program to serve as the Underground’s lead response and client care team – support first, enforcement second.
  • Timely and consistent deployment of a mobile SIS unit in hot spots around the city to improve client interaction, minimize fixed site impacts, and acclimate the community to the service’s value proposition.
  • Distribution of Narcan kits to front-line response teams and even select addicts.
  • Provision of medicinal opioids to improve client safety and manage dosage.
  • Engagement of London’s two hospitals and their respective foundations in a collective effort to expand the community’s clinical diagnostics, treatment, and recovery capacity.
  • Establishment of a local full-service medical detox and extended stay residential treatment hostel.
  • Contribution to a national scientific research effort to identify antidotes to the next generation of highly-addictive and potentially-fatal street drugs.

Women, Youth-Centric and Indigenous Community Support (Incremental Operating: $2MM, Capital: $TBD)

  • Expansion of existing offerings.
  • Continued development of Youth Opportunities Unlimited Vulnerable Youth Hub

Creation of a CRM System (Operating $0.5MM)

  • Design, development, and rapid deployment of a simple, easy-to-use, universal application to be used by and shared with all contact points within the Underground.
  • Ongoing maintenance and independent reporting of all pre-determined activities and outcomes related to the continuum of care.

Expanded Public Awareness Campaign (Operating $0.5MM)

  • Initiating a communication campaign (e.g. See One Community campaign) that tells the story of our most vulnerable and the positive results associated with wrap-around services.
  • Engagement and support of local charities in specific community education plans and outreach efforts.
  • Clear and sustained reporting to the community on investment requirements, program-by-program progress, and positive and negative outcomes.
  • Aggressive and sustained outreach into the school system to acquaint students with the dangers and potentially life-terminating consequences of illegal synthetic drug use.

The next step is to compare the above with what the community is currently paying on an annual basis to support its Underground.  As outlined a couple of weeks ago in Part 4, our community was collectively and conservatively outlaying between $11-15 million per year as follows:

  • $Millions
  • Police                                            $1.5-2.0
  • Hospital Services                      2.0-3.0
  • Shelters                                         5.0-7.0
  • Support Services                      2.5-3.0 ___     
  • Total                                          $11.0-15.0 million

Under my proposed plan, the additional operating expenditures outlined above can be blended with the current allocation to create the following tally:

  • $Millions
  • Police                                     $1.5-2.0 (resources re-directed to prevention)
  • Hospital Services               1.0-2.0 (reduced emergency room impacts)
  • Shelters                                   1.0-1.5  (reduced beds required)
  • Harm Reduction                3.5-4.5  (SIS, detox, extended stay, medical)
  • Housing First                       3.5-4.5 (housing options for 400 recipients)
  • Support Services              3.5-4.5 (resources for London CAReS)
  • Total                                  $14.0-19.0 million

While the proposed annual operating expense is considerably higher than the current allocation, the new plan includes a number of essential services designed to actually resolve the problem, and materially improve the situation for both our most vulnerable citizens and those most impacted by their current disengagement.

I also must qualify the above are estimates only.  I personally hate using a range estimate, especially one that is so pronounced. Unfortunately, the current financial and performance reporting methods used to measure the effectiveness of these services are dreadful. As such, I think it is best to keep the estimates on the high side for now and refine them at a point closer to the election.   The new plan also includes a sizeable capital addition to complement this initiative, although it is unclear if such a capital outlay is required.  Regardless, the current situation is untenable, and the social and economic consequences to our community far exceed this expense.

As stated repeatedly in previous posts, the above strategies and the associated budget are by no means complete or absolute.  However, I believe that this plan provides our city with a clear approach to understanding and resolving this unrelenting community issue.  More importantly, it conveys a civic commitment towards a collective effort to enhance the lives of our most vulnerable citizens, while respecting and responding to the needs of the other citizens that live and work around them.

I look forward to refining this plan in the near future and possibly implementing it with the support of Londoners.  As I shared in an earlier post, if the true measure of any society can be found in how its treats its most vulnerable members, then we as a city, must make this effort a priority and never relent on its responsibility to care for those of us who are hurting and need our help.

We own this.  We can fix this.