Following COVID-19 moderated homecoming celebrations in 2020 and 2021, local officials say they are preparing for what is expected to be a rowdy, reveler-filled weekend around Western University and along the strip of Richmond Row.
While Western lined up a slew of offerings for students and alumni throughout the weekend, including the Western Mustangs marquee football game on Saturday, students are still expected to congregate in off-campus neighborhoods for parties not allowed as they have been doing for years. Police and paramedics say they are hiring additional staff as a result.
This year’s Homecoming Weekend, which runs from Friday to Sunday, will see the first full-fledged Homecoming celebrations in the city since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
In 2020, the six-month pandemic forced students to largely stay home, while in 2021 student gatherings were quieter than expected during the day, but intensified as the sun set. , by-law officers responding to 24 noise complaints along Huron Street. in the evening and at night.
Last year’s homecoming was the first in years to be held in September, after Western reversed a 2016 decision to push the event back to October, a change made in a bid to clamp down on big parties along Broughdale, the student-filled, dead-end street located near campus.
Students, however, pushed back, staging informal “fake homecomings” (FoCo) rallies that drew thousands to the streets. In 2019, around 25,000 people packed Broughdale for the FoCo parties in a day of celebration that ended with 14 arrests, 32 people hospitalized and a police bill of over $300,000.
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With the removal of COVID-19 restrictions and the return of approximately 38,000 students to campus for the 2022-23 year, Western, city and emergency services officials are urging revelers to avoid things don’t get out of hand.
In a statement, John Doerksen, Western’s vice provost for students, said the university had been involved in the planning enterprise by the city’s Unsanctioned Street Party Task Force, formerly known as the Broughdale work.
Formed following huge FoCo street parties in Broughdale in 2018, the task force includes leaders from the city, Western University, the University’s Student Council, London Police, the Department of London Fire, Middlesex-London Paramedic Services and Health Unit.
“We encourage students to be safe and take care of themselves, their friends and their community. The health and safety of our campus and community is a shared responsibility and we all need to do our part,” Doerksen said.
“We hope students will choose to join the rest of the Western community in participating in some of our homecoming events like the Student Pancake Breakfast, Soccer Game, and Student Fan Festival.”
The Mustangs take on the Waterloo Warriors at 1 p.m. Saturday at Western Alumni Stadium. The student fan festival, which will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the stadium, will feature more than 20 free food trucks, hot air balloon rides, live music, games and contests, according to Western Alumni.
A full list of planned reunion events can be viewed on the Alumni West website.
“The university will have teams in place on campus to ensure safety and security at Western during the homecoming weekend. This includes resources available to students at on-campus care centers as well as physical and mental health support through our health and wellness team,” Doerksen said.
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As in previous years, London Police say they will have a visible presence along Broughdale and other high-traffic student areas throughout the day on Saturday, and additional officers are being brought in from Hamilton and of York Region to ensure police resources are always available to the rest of the city.
Police said they had been coordinating with other agencies for months ahead of this weekend, as part of the city’s task force.
“We just want to make sure everyone is safe. We encourage people to have fun, but to do it responsibly,” said Const. Sandasha Bough.
“The enforcement will include laws relating to open drinking, underage drinking, breaches of regulations, also ensuring streets remain accessible at all times. Charges will be laid if necessary. We will be firm but fair in our efforts to enforce applicable laws, but our top priority is safety. »
Saturday also marks the end of Project LEARN, the annual initiative that takes place during the first weekends of the school year targeting rowdy student behavior.
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Paramedics are also expected to be inundated with calls this weekend. Like the police, the MLPS, which covers London and Middlesex County, is also recruiting additional staff to boost its capacity.
Last year, MLPS members responded to a total of 75 calls for service in the Broughdale area between 8 a.m. on September 25 and 3 a.m. on September 26 – the vast majority after 5 p.m., according to figures from the agency.
Two people were taken to hospital between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., while 30 were transported between 5 p.m. and 3 a.m., six of whom were seriously injured.
“Over the past few years, the Middlesex-London Paramedic Service has worked with allied emergency services and community partners to support the health and safety of the student community throughout the homecoming festivities,” said the agency said in a statement.
“As we strive to provide the best emergency medical care and support to the Middlesex-London community, we encourage all students celebrating their homecoming this weekend to celebrate responsibly and look after the each other.”
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Residents living near Broughdale and other student neighborhoods have expressed concern ahead of the reunion weekend, Ward 6 Coun said. Mariam Hamou.
“We hear that they don’t want last year to repeat itself,” she said.
In addition to a rowdy homecoming, Western’s O Week was marred by the death of student Gabriel Neil near campus and massive drug and sexual assault allegations that emerged on social media. .
Police later reported they had spoken with more than 600 people as part of an investigation into the allegations, but said no official report had been made with them.
“We’re trying to shift the focus from punishment to safety, so hopefully the messages will get through and people will be kinder to themselves and the community around them,” Hamou said.
Hamou, who took over the Ward 6 council seat in May following the resignation of longtime councilor Phil Squire, says she will be “in the middle of it all” on Saturday, “looking with a more responsible eye, as opposed to more than one eye looking at it from the owner’s perspective.
“I’m going to look at it from a responsible person’s perspective, and how to alleviate the issues that we would face when we got home,” she said.
“I expect it to be busy, it can get rowdy,” she continued, “but I hope with everything we have in place that it stays quiet and that there are no fatalities, that people will stay safe and that it is relatively uneventful.
— with files by Andrew Graham
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