THE POTHOLE FILLERS ARE GRAVE DIGGERS
A Report from the Struggle to Stop the Genocide Against Unhoused People in Kingston/Katarokwi
On January 10th, in the first meeting of the new year, Kingston City Council voted in an 8-5 judgement to postpone the eviction of the homeless encampment at the Integrated Care Hub to March 21st, as opposed to its planned date of January 11th, with Mayor Paterson and Councillors Osanic, Oosterhof, Boehme, and McLaren voting against the moratorium.
Although the decision to postpone the eviction is good news—for the time being—the council meeting quickly began taking on a dubious and false narrative which was set up to become a scapegoat for our new council: pushing blame up the ladder to higher levels of government. Ryan Boehme, one of the mayor’s lackeys representing the Pittsburgh district, went as far as to call city councillors “pothole politicians,” playing on the common misconception that municipal politics lacks the money and power to effect the changes that citizens and voters demand. This type of conduct by council should be extremely worrying to the working and poor people of Kingston because our elected representatives are laying out very clearly that they do not feel their job includes supporting the most vulnerable members of our community; instead, council will only deal with menial jobs, such as filling potholes.
This rhetoric was then perfectly embodied in the mayor’s new motion which, besides declaring a mental health and addictions crisis—which is long overdue—is being used to absolve the city of any responsibility for finding solutions to these crises, instead requesting the provincial government provide more money and lead ‘emergency working groups’ comprised of local social service groups, healthcare organizations, and of course, the police. No doubt, more provincial and federal money is needed in municipalities, but in the past, the mayor and council have proven unable to effectively apply for and spend this money to benefit the masses in Kingston.
Besides being dangerous, this type of conduct from council is an outright falsehood and a perfect representation of the problems with our current political system. By muddying the water and posturing as if council’s hands are tied by the provincial and federal governments on issues of housing, homelessness, cost of living crises, childcare, food supply, addiction treatment, etc., the municipal government is hiding the vast amount of money and power which is at their disposal—money and power which could be used to provide legitimate solutions.
Although council feigns to be ignorant to these solutions, many members of the public went to the Jan. 10th meeting and made delegations which plainly laid out the solutions available, such as increasing funding to the ICH so that they can expand their space and services, applying for more money from federal and provincial governments to implement actually-affordable housing solutions, and implementing social-rent-geared-to-income-housing projects for the working and poor people of Kingston. Some of these solutions were even echoed by councillors, many of whom voiced their positive opinions on the increased funding and expansion of the ICH, so that the staff can continue providing their lifesaving services at an increased and more meaningful capacity. According to CAO (chief administrative officer) Lanie Hurdle, “To be quite frank, I think probably the only option at this point would be a larger ICH where individuals could be within the building rather than outside in tents.” But, besides lip service, the council seems resistant to provide any meaningful commitment to this solution. By relocating and expanding the ICH, the city could, in effect, fulfill their commitment to provide transitional housing and services to the unhoused people of Kingston, while not having to build an institution from the ground up. The ICH and its staff have proved more than capable of caring for our unhoused neighbours, and it is their expertise which has helped to cultivate a safe and loving community at the current encampment.
One delegate who represented the KUT laid out additional solutions for council, “First order of business MUST be to repeal the draconian and murderous encampment protocol which the city has employed…second order of business is to begin defunding police services and direct money away from the tax breaks and capital injections which the city provides to private real-estate developers, so that this money can be used for housing the unhoused peoples of Kingston.” The KUT has stated, and maintains, that the issue of housing and homelessness in Kingston will only be permanently solved through safe, clean, dignified social-rent-geared-to-income-housing for the people.
Unfortunately, these solutions do not fit into the new council narrative of ‘pothole politics’ and shifting the blame. Lies told by city politicians become clear when the conduct of council is closely evaluated—take for example, the $31.5 million KFHC housing development at 1316 Princess Street which was supported by our previous council and was built with $17 million of municipal money. This 92-unit building is set to include ONLY 10 rent-geared-to-income housing units, 42 ‘affordable units’ (80% of the market rate), and 40 market rate housing units. It begs the question, when evaluating this project and others, why are there so few RGI units? If $17 million of taxpayer money is being spent, why did it go towards a housing development where 89% of the units are still unaffordable to most working and poor Kingstonians? In addition to this $17 million, last year Kingston spent $42 million on the police department, which spends most of their time pestering, brutalizing, and terrorizing the unhoused, poor, and working people of Kingston. Furthermore, the city just recently completed the construction of the $180 million Waaban crossing bridge, $60 million of which was municipal money used to connect the east end to the city center, in an effort to accommodate the city’s atrocious urban planning, urban sprawl, and lack of effective public transportation. In fact, in this very same council meeting, the mayor and council provided $110,000 for around the clock, 24/7 ‘security services’ to be implemented at the ICH encampment, which will undoubtedly work to surveil, pester, and further dehumanize the encampment residents.
This is all to say that there is evidently an abundance of money and power at city hall; the problem is that our ‘esteemed council’ is dedicated to enforcing their lackluster policy which cares so much for the rich and so little for workers and the poor.
While it is important to watch, understand, and criticize Kingston City Council and other levels of government, it is even more important to organize the working and poor people to defend themselves against attacks from the enforcers of this genocidal regime. This latest encampment eviction, like those before it, was averted, not due to the compassion and decency of the politicians who will take credit for it, but by the mobilization of unhoused people and their working class allies who signed petitions, wrote to politicians, and vowed to physically defend the encampment in case of the eviction proceeding as planned. The KUT barbecue that was organized to happen during the eviction went ahead after the eviction was postponed. We served 100 meals and other supplies to the encampment residents. It was a celebration of working class power and resistance and a demonstration of what is to come.
If you, like many other Kingstonians, are interested in helping the working and poor people of Kingston, JOIN THE KUT! In addition to our encampment support programs, we also work in the tenant community providing education and information on tenants’ rights and politically organizing to pressure governments and landlords to end their oppression and exploitation of tenants in Kingston. Our campaigns currently underway are the encampment survival and food relief program, encampment evictions resistance, a research and policy development working group, and a campaign to clean up bedbugs in Kingston rental dwellings.
Join us on January 17th at 7pm for our next general meeting on Zoom!
Join Zoom Meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85200128049
Everyone is welcome!