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  • Kyle Fillo

Fund The Proven ICH/CTS, Not 10 Ill-Advised Cabins

Updated: Dec 28, 2021

At the Kingston City Council meeting on November 16-17, two decisions were made regarding housing/homelessness in Kingston. One was the approval of the Our Livable Solutions sleeping cabin pilot project, at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour. The other, the approval of funding for the Integrated Care Hub & Consumption and Treatment Services Centre (ICH/CTS) through April 1, 2022, with a condition of the evaluation of ICH/CTS service provision.

The Katarokwi Union of Tenants prioritizes precise, long term analysis of all issues surrounding housing and homelessness, along with an understanding of how decisions on these issues are made by elected representatives. We believe in the necessity of an informed community for addressing the ongoing housing and homelessness crises. By shining light on how these City Council decisions were made, we will show how their consequences diverge from our ultimate goal: making Kingston’s neighbourhoods more affordable, equitable, just, and accessible for the working class and marginalized/dispossessed peoples.

Portsmouth Olympic Harbour Sleeping Cabins Project Approval

The sleeping cabins project proposes 10 units to be erected at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, which would remain there until April 30, 2022. These units will have heat and power hookups, with residents having access to the washroom facilities already existing at the Harbour. Priority will be given to community members experiencing both homelessness and disability. Even before we dive into all of the issues with this plan, it’s clear that, at its core, a ten-person pilot project is not the long term answer to homelessness in the city, despite this being the most-discussed project going into yet another freezing winter.

Our first critique is the location. Portsmouth Olympic Harbour is both extremely secluded and extremely exposed to the elements. Councillor Wayne Hill brought up the weather conditions at this location, including that residents will have to go outside in the middle of the night to access a washroom. Chrystal Wilson, the primary actor behind Our Livable Solutions, paved over this serious concern with a personal anecdote, rather than an acknowledgement of her plan’s insufficiency in this area.

When asked about transportation to and from the Harbour, especially regarding vital services these community members access daily, Wilson listed several options. These included public transportation and taxis, which place the financial burden on the people themselves, or even biking or walking, during the middle of winter, for a group chosen specifically due to their mobility issues. While onsite service provision will occur, at the moment, it sounds like onsite service providers will have to meet the people they serve outside, again, in the middle of winter.

This plan also does not address the ongoing overdose crisis. Two primary factors behind the success of safe injection sites like the ICH/CTS is that they a) reduce the rate of people using drugs alone, and b) offer the requisite harm reduction services, including naloxone, to perform life-saving overdose reverses. Portsmouth Olympic Harbour is six kilometers from the ICH/CTS. That’s over an hour on foot. Wilson also specifically said that those working at the cabin site are not there to be harm reduction workers. Deadly overdose in these circumstances is a near inevitability. Similar distance concerns also apply for people who need to make daily visits to their pharmacy for opioid maintenance programs like methadone.

Now, let’s take a look at the project cost. At this point, ~$275,000 has been allocated to the sleeping cabins project. Wilson has said that three of them will be ready and delivered within the next few weeks, with all ten cabins only being delivered by the end of 2021. With an estimated project length of five months (Dec. 2021-end of Apr. 2022), we can work out the following project costs:

  • $27,500/unit

  • $5,500/month

  • ~$185/night

Prohibitive to say the very least, considering that these are veritable shacks, rather than motel rooms, let alone apartments. Putting the cost for just 10 units in the context of Kingston’s 3.2% rental vacancy rate, $1,327 average rent for a two bedroom apartment, and 200-400 people experiencing homelessness shows how expensive and insufficient this project truly is.

Further concerns include the lack of community consultation, and the procedures through which the cabins will be built, and the residents selected. According to residents of Portsmouth Village, several of whom spoke to City Council, there was absolutely no community consultation. The decision to move forward is basically an imposition on the community, and while many residents seem eager to help shelter the unhoused generally, there are serious concerns about the specifics (and lack thereof!) of this plan.

During the meeting, Councillor Jim Neill refers to the people Our Livable Solutions is putting in lakeside shelters as “your tenants.” Additionally, Letitia Flett, another OLS delegate, says that the people being helped, by and large, are chosen by OLS. These power dynamics are quite concerning.

What emerges from this entire discussion is an expensive solution undergirded by optimism rather than effectiveness. Considering that OLS has been working on this plan for a whole year, there are many glaring holes, especially when this program is basically universally recognized by all involved as insufficient in both scale and scope. If only the City Council had instead heeded the words of KUT General Secretary Ivan Stoiljkovic, rather than blinking past them in silence, unwilling even to respect his presence.

Integrated Care Hub & Consumption Treatment Services Centre Decision

Thanks in large part due to the ICH/CTS, Kingston was the only city in Ontario where the overdose death rate decreased in 2020, according to Mayor Bryan Paterson. Even beyond all of the vital shelter, food, harm reduction supplies, counselling, pandemic triage, support, and dignity that the ICH/CTS provides to Kingston community members every day, they have reversed over 500 overdoses in their 15 month existence, literally saving lives. As we have detailed previously, the ICH/CTS’s role as Kingston’s primary backstop against compounding social and health crises should be celebrated, and even held as a point of municipal pride. Instead, it’s under review with its funding on the line.

This successful initiative is discussed among City Council as anything but. The lives of Kingston’s most vulnerable community members are given equal, if not less, weight as the litter around the ICH/CTS, and immense human suffering is steamrolled into a pesky budget item. As Councillor Lisa Osanic said, “I don’t want to put any more money into the ICH, even to see if it’s working.” Only in view of the utter lack of understanding of mental health, addiction, and trauma across the City Council, does it become clear how they don’t already understand that the ICH/CTS is going above and beyond their operational mandate.

What is really up for review is the context in which the ICH/CTS staff are succeeding. The ICH/CTS exists in a building still under construction in parts, on a site with dangerously high levels of dozens of contaminants, in a community from which staff and those who use their services regularly receive both complaints and death threats. Several councillors admit that this project was rushed in a way that has made it more dangerous for the people currently served there. The logical leap they make here is that it must be shut due to its deterioration. The situation at the ICH/CTS isn’t deteriorating; the City’s ability to support its citizens is deteriorating, and the situation at the ICH/CTS reflects this continued failure. There must be no talk of shutting down the ICH. What is needed is relocation into a healthier environment, with a better and bigger facility, which isn’t owned by a private landlord who got the land for free.

Any review of the ICH/CTS’s efficacy must a) take the extent of its service provision into consideration, and b) make explicit how every single one of these services will be provided in the future. Without these conditions, the City is putting lives at risk, and must be held accountable. That they believe they still need proof that those on the frontline of several complex social catastrophes, unaddressed by this and every other form of government, are doing something worthwhile, is dispiriting to say the very least.

City Council acknowledges that the ICH/CTS is suffering not from issues of service effectiveness, but issues of ill-planning, lack of adequate construction, poor site choice, and allegations of neighbourhood nuisance. Does this sound familiar? They are assuring people that the ‘situation’ at the ICH/CTS, which they claim is so untenable as to merit review, will not take place at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour. This is despite the fact that they have already completely failed to include the community in the consultation process, and all there is to patch all the holes in the OLS plan, detailed in this article, is unbacked assurances and optimism.

Witness the scrutiny being applied to the ICH/CTS, as it places Kingston at the provincial forefront of harm reduction and saving lives. Contrast it with the laissez-faire attitude towards the ten waterfront shacks that cost more per night than luxury hotel rooms and won’t be ready until six weeks from now. And don’t forget all the additional homelessness that will be created this winter by a lack of movement on the h

ousing crisis. Or the fact that, as City staff are open about, there is no alternative for the many vital services the ICH/CTS provides to hundreds of Kingstonians. Lakeside shacks are not the answer, and the ICH/CTS must be protected, supported, and given all of the necessary resources.

Written by Kyle Fillo, on behalf of the Katarokwi Union of Tenants

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