Ahead of what is expected to be a weekend of unsanctioned street parties, particularly in neighbourhoods around Western University, city officials and first responders are reminding partiers to keep safety top-of-mind.
Western's 74th homecoming kicks off Friday with festivities and events on campus. However, the concern to prioritize safety comes from the large gatherings that typically spill out into streets outside the post secondary institution's gates.
“Western is committed to providing students with a safe, respectful, and supportive campus environment," said John Doerksen, the university's vice-provost of students. "We want students to have fun, but we also want them to be safe. We recognize the safety and well-being of our community is a shared responsibility and we are encouraging students to be respectful, take care of themselves, each other, and this community.”
During last year's homecoming celebrations, an estimated 7,000 revelers were on London streets with some throwing beer cans at people - including police officers - damaging property, and jumping from rooftops and hydro poles. The unsanctioned parties led to 162 provincial warnings being issued, 22 liquor-related charges, three criminal charges, and 16 by-law warnings. The cost of a public information campaign and policing the event was $265,155.
A task force created to help prevent serious incidents at the unsanctioned street parties has been working on an action plan for several months. The task force includes representatives from Western University, Fanshawe College, city officials, London police , London Fire Department, Middlesex-London Paramedic Service, and the Middlesex-London Health Unit, with operational support from London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London.
As part of the plan, police, firefighters, paramedics, and by-law officers will be visible in and around student populated neighbourhoods throughout the weekend. The city's hospitals will have additional staff on hand and a dedicated overflow space should patient levels climb due to any rowdy happenings.
Partiers are also being reminded of possible fines that could be laid should gatherings become dangerous. Those at parties deemed a "nuisance" could be hit with an $800 fine. Should they fail to leave the premises when asked a $750 fine could be issued. Using a road that is closed is punishable with a $500 fine and the cost of public urination is $250.
“Students are an important part of our community. When they are here, they are home," said Mayor Josh Morgan. "I know you are excited to be here and want to be social and celebrate, and we just ask that you do so safely and respectfully.”
In a bid to keep students on campus and away from unsanctioned gatherings, Western will hold a number of official events. The student fan festival will go from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday at Western Alumni Stadium. It includes free admission to the annual homecoming football game against the Ottawa Gee-Gees, free food trucks, and hot air balloon rides. Ahead of that will be a student pancake breakfast on the university's Concrete Beach, as well as a campus-wide scavenger hunt. A full list of events can be found by clicking here.
University Drive Bridge and a couple of campus roads will be closed to vehicular traffic through the weekend. All routes will remain open to pedestrians and cyclists.