• Doug Yearwood

The Sleeping Shed Failure Was Predicted From The Beginning

This is a response to an article published in the Kingston Whig Standard on January 10, 2022, which details how only 6 out of 10 of Our Livable Solutions shacks have been delivered to Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, and how in the middle of a cold snap in January, none are currently operational.

Members of the Katarokwi Union of Tenants did their best to make clear that this plan was headed in the wrong direction. From the beginning, this project lacked transparency; it was clear as day that this project was anti-democratic, and fed Chrystal Wilson’s worst features, namely her obsessive personality and desire to control people. A KUT member who had family renting from Chrystal Wilson suggested (on numerous occasions, check the Twitter feed) that Wilson might not be the best person to be given this task, this responsibility, and all this money.

It was also a plan that never even attempted to resolve homelessness. Instead, the sheds were a vanity project, making homelessness look cute, rather than acknowledging it for what it is—a failure of government and a product of private land ownership—and then continuing the struggle for long-term, democratic, mass-led, social housing solutions.

In August 2021, Ivan Stoiljkovic, General Secretary of the Katarokwi Union of Tenants said this: “There is an even better way in my opinion to accomplish [the immediate end to homelessness]. It would be to put people up in apartments retrofitted out of existing hotel rooms at $1500 per room, which is the going rate based on double occupancy. All of Kingston’s estimated 200 currently homeless people could be put up in motels over the four months of winter for $600,000.” You can read the quote here.

In September, in a Housing and Homelessness Advisory Committee meeting, KUT urged the City to make a recommendation to the City Council about this motel housing program. You can see the brief delegation here. Please give it a watch, as the part I'm referencing is only about a minute and a half long.

In November, KUT again told the City Council to spend money on housing people through motels and hotels, while simultaneously building long term public and social housing to resolve the crisis. You can see that delegation here.

In late December, KUT issued this statement, noting that the power dynamics of Chrystal’s tiny home project, and lack of any coherent implementation plan, were highly distressing.

I say all this because it's extremely frustrating that the City continues to spend allegedly scarce housing dollars so recklessly and unproductively, putting their faith in the most opportunistic people in the city. In the eyes of the City and the liberals who denounce us, we’re the bad guys. But this is only because we’re frustrated at how moronic and destructive their behaviour, decisions, and actions are, and find it intolerable that they produce untimely and unnecessary death, what some refer to as social murder.

I think it's worth pointing out that so far this winter, the City has spent about $600k on two initiatives whose funding runs out in the spring: 1) the warming shelter which just opened this week, already halfway into January, and 2) the sleeping sheds project which has not housed a single person yet. The motel program we pushed for would have housed a lot more people, for the entire winter, for the same amount of money, with better amenities and more stability.

Regarding the warming centre, we know from reports to Council that a chunk of public money is going to pay the leasing/rent costs charged by the centre’s local land baron owner. We don't know exactly how much, and are in the process of trying to find out, but the City allocated $300k for this project from December until March. Given that the City of Kingston was paying another land baron $322k for the land and fit, which the state had previously owned, I think this is more evidence that we're being screwed around, and footing a bill for unfulfilled services. We also know that the City approved a bylaw to give one of the richest people in the City tax exemptions.

The City also gave Chrystal's 10 shack program $257k, including money for staffing. As we know now, only about half of the shacks have been delivered, none are operational, and it’s halfway through January. You can see in the article that Chrystal has an obsession with control, and it is KUT’s opinion that the City couldn't have given this responsibility and money to a more unfit person. It's remarkable how inefficient their capital spending is.

While it seems unlikely that these City Council decisions are based on any factors beyond transferring public wealth into private pockets, there is an interesting historical parallel to note. The 1847 North American typhus epidemic was a result of Irish immigrants fleeing the British-instigated famine in their home country, arriving in North America aboard overcrowded and disease-infested ‘coffin ships.’ According to an Ontario Provincial Historical Plaque, still standing today on the southeast corner of Kirkpatrick Street and Kingscourt Avenue, behind the fence surrounding Kingston’s St. Mary's Cemetery,:

Those stricken while passing through Kingston, Ontario found shelter in makeshift "immigrant sheds" erected near the waterfront. Despite the efforts of local religious and charitable organizations, notably the Sisters of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph and the Female Benevolent Society, some 1,400 immigrants died. They were buried near the present-day Kingston General Hospital, with their remains re-interred to St. Mary's Cemetery in 1966.”

Makeshift sheds? For the most vulnerable population members? On the waterfront? During an epidemiological crisis? Unfortunately for Chrystal Wilson and Kingston City Council, their shed project isn’t just wholly ineffective; it’s not even original (which was one of Wilson's main selling points)! 'Solutions' like this are a consequence of the way we treat our political problems with technical solutions. People (read: landlords!) like Chrystal Wilson attempt to innovate new ‘housing solutions,’ like it’s the concept of housing itself, rather than the systems through which we distribute it, that is broken. The Katarokwi Union of Tenants stands behind the idea that decommodifying the housing market, and building social housing for all, is the only way to end the homelessness crisis, and we’re fighting to make this belief a reality.

By Doug Yearwood

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