City of Kingston Commits to Trauma-Inducing Approach to Homelessness Crisis
On April 20th, City Council voted to accept a brutal encampment protocol that is in clear violation of Canada’s international obligations to uphold housing as a human right. The municipal government’s stance on homelessness, which is committed to forcing people into the shadows while failing to provide adequate shelter alternatives, contradicts successful Charter challenges that have determined that anti-encampment bylaws violate Section 7, which guarantees life, liberty, and the security of persons. Moreover, and perhaps most egregiously, despite paying lip service to Leilani Farha and Caitlin Schwan’s A National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada: A Human Rights Approach, City officials have committed to policies that run counter to the recommendations stemming from that report.
Since that time, people have been evicted and their homes have been destroyed. At the behest of the Mayor, curfew is being introduced to prevent people from congregating around the Montreal Street Integrated Care Hub while additional “safety engagement workers” have been hired to police the neighbourhood. The Protocol calls for increased police presence to enforce evictions and restrictions. These measures, combined with the dirty and expensive supply of legal and illegal medicine that people are forced to rely on, will undoubtedly cause unnecessary deaths and suffering as people will be forced further into hiding and isolation.
We call on the management and staff of the Integrated Care Hub and other organizations serving the needs of the unhoused and sick in our town to put the needs of those whose lives are in danger first. We need a people’s coalition to come together and start advocating for housing as a human right—not a commodity, but a human right—and a safe supply of medicine for the people. We recognize the work that staff at ICH do is important, and we hope they can be vocal and speak without fear of reprisal from the City.
We demand an immediate repeal of the genocidal bylaw that is preventing people from sleeping in City Parks.
The bylaw preventing people from sleeping outside on public lands is genocidal in a double sense. First, it is a historical continuation of the colonial seizure and commodification of land from the original inhabitants who have been dispossessed, whereby only those with access to private property are allowed to have a home and those without this power are condemned to homelessness. On the other side, the policy is a modern type of genocide as it is contributing to the ongoing extermination of the Indigenous and poor people by way of criminalization of homelessness, combining with the opioid crisis to force the people further into hiding and away from the services that might save their lives. When people continue to die from preventable diseases caused by poverty and trauma in a society of plenty where there is clearly enough resources and space for everyone to be well fed, housed and medicated as is the case in our community, when this situation is systematically perpetuated as a matter of entrenched policy, when people of an identifiable ethnicity are grossly over-represented among the victims of this policy, then we have a clear case of genocide before us.
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states that “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” In the context of the anti-encampment bylaw supported by the City of Kingston, it should be recognized that this policy disproportionately targets racialized and ethnic minorities compared to the demographic share of the general population, which can be affirmed through the City of Kingston and County of Frontenac’s Housing and Homelessness Report in 2018 and data provided by Statistics Canada. Whereas First Nations people constitute approximately 3 percent of Kingston’s population (Statistics Canada, 2016), the Housing and Homelessness Report (2018) states that 24 percent of the urban homeless population and 46 percent in rural areas “identify as Indigenous.” This is included to demonstrate that the ruthless encampment bylaw policies, when considered in a broader context that acknowledges how the Canadian state at the federal, provincial, and municipal level is failing to uphold its human rights responsibilities due to its commitment to a landlord- and developer-driven, status quo agenda. The City of Kingston’s unwillingness to provide adequate housing due to their dogmatic faith in the same actors who caused the housing crisis in the first place is causing and will continue to cause families to be destroyed, and children to be taken from their parents.
We demand that the city stop committing to market-driven solutions to the housing crisis, as they clearly do not work. The Mayor’s Task Force on Housing sees solutions to the housing crisis as a question of simple supply and demand economics. This is a perspective clearly favoured by developers and landlords but ignores the reality of the rental housing market. To solely focus on market supply dynamics ignores pertinent history, like the precipitous decline in social housing beginning in the early 1990s and the City of Kingston’s failure to be responsible and uphold international conventions to ensure people are adequately housed. It denies the idea that we can invest in housing for the people where it is not rent-geared-to-market. It also ignores the fact that there already exists more than enough housing to comfortably find everyone a home and that the City has tools at its disposal to ameliorate the crisis in a way that puts people first. In this way, there is no housing shortage or supply crisis; What Canada has is a crisis of rational utilization, where we build housing for profit first, and people second. In general, high rents are due to things like financial speculation, the assetization of housing at expense of well-funded pensions, the emergence of short-term rentals (AirBnb, etc.), and the collapse of social housing tenure. With no deflationary pressure caused by non-market rental units, and with the City committing to these neoliberal housing schemes that enrich landlords and developers, rentals are not buoyed to anything other than market-based housing options.
We demand that the city commit to non-market housing solutions that are geared to income, immediately resolve the social housing waitlist crisis, and stop giving away property to the rich. For example, the land given to Ben Pilon must be taken back and used for the development of emergency and long-term and assisted social, not-for-profit and geared-to-income housing.
We demand that those whose homes and belongings were destroyed be immediately housed in motels and be provided with the wrap-around services they need. This should be made available to them at their place of residence by mobile teams of caring workers.
We demand that funding be immediately made available for both the motel program or acquisition and the supporting services.
We demand that the City of Kingston implement a Safer Opioid Supply (SOS) program and request immediate financial support from Health Canada and Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to maintain a permanent network of SOS prescribing practitioners and service providing organizations in the Kingston community. The violent displacement of encampment residents in Kingston has magnified the already devastating impact of the housing and overdose syndemic in Canada. Deaths attributable to the unregulated, adulterated, and subsequently toxic drug supply in Ontario have reached their highest ever level, in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Drug prohibition, the commodification of housing, and the continued dispossession of low-income and racialized persons under capitalism are at the root of the housing and overdose syndemic. The City of Kingston’s decision to formalize it’s violent and colonial approach to encampment removal has and will contribute to increasing drug-related harm in our community. In addition to a complete and immediate repeal of the bylaw in question, we demand that the City of Kingston and the leadership of KFL&A Public Health provide financial support and accessible community spaces for prescribers and/or related services that wish to participate in ongoing COVID-19 related Safer Opioid Supply prescribing programs. Additionally, we call on the City of Kingston to emulate the City of Vancouver and exhaust all available advocacy channels to multiple levels of government to secure capital and financial support for the creation of sustainable Safer Opioid Supply programming as a permanent part of municipal public health infrastructure. Such programming should engage with both individual practitioners and existing harm reduction service providing organizations in the Kingston area and make available several pharmaceutical-grade alternatives to the poisoned drug supply, including oral and injectable hydromorphone, diacetylmorphine, and stimulant drugs. This process and any resulting program must be meaningfully directed by people who use drugs. KUT believes that the latter demand is an imperative and non-negotiable part of future encampment-related policy and harm reduction programming in Kingston.
We demand the resignation of the City staff responsible for the introduction of the most draconian and murderous encampment protocol in Ontario and the subsequent clearing of encampments. Chief Administrative Officer Lanie Hurdle, Commissioner of Corporate Services Brad Joyce, Director of Housing and Social Services Ruth Nordegraf, and City of Kingston Housing Administrator Joanne Borris have repeatedly and intentionally misled the public and the Council by misrepresenting and obfuscating the reality and the extent of the housing and homelessness crisis in Kingston and should be immediately fired and replaced with compassionate and caring individuals who will take care of the needs of our most vulnerable. We believe that removing these individuals from their positions and replacing them with sensible and caring human beings will allow city staff to do their jobs, which is to follow the instructions of the City Council rather than acting on the advice and wishes of landlords and developers. The status quo is in contradiction to the explicit instructions of the City Council and the United Nations conventions Canada is signatory to.
The Katarokwi (Kingston) Union of Tenants
Kingston Peace Council PSAC Local 901 Executive Committee The Tim Buck Club of Eastern Ontario
Canadian Association for Safe Supply
Moms Stop the Harm
Mutual Aid Katarokwi Kingston