Dear Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour,
In this special short edition I am focusing only on community issues related to addictions/mental health, housing, homelessness and theft as best as I can from a number of differing perspectives. Thanks to a local resident for this picture illustrating what some of the piles of garbage in Belle Park look like.
I would be most grateful if you would read through this relatively brief summary.
Apologies for errors, oversimplifications, and omissions that are unintended but perhaps inevitable. Criticism/comments always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few general considerations relevant to the Integrated Care Hub at 661 Montreal St.:
1.Homelessness in Kingston has increasedover the last couple of years to a current total of 207 according to a recent report from the United Way. This problem has increased for decades due to both inadequate and inappropriate government funding and delays due to bureaucratic process.
2. 31% of Kingston’s homeless are Indigenous
3. City-wide shelter beds have been reducedto 67 (from 97 in 2018) although this number has been supplemented to some extent at times by use of hotel rooms.
4.The opioid problem is horrific. News reports often report more opioid deaths than deaths from COVID in many jurisdictions across the country throughout the past two years.
5. Costs to taxpayers for clearing out campsites in Belle Park following citizen complaints is substantial. I don’t have figures but a recent report in Toronto stated that over 2 million dollars was spent removing campsites in three parks. And then the campers simply move a short distance away and set up tents again.
6.The tenters removed from the entry to Belle Park last season have moved to other less obvious locations throughout Belle Park and to nearby undeveloped plots
7. Local neighbours and businesses in the hub neighbourhood are really suffering from:
a) loud noises such as screaming, crying, and police and fire sirens, at all hours of the day and night,
b) a dramatic increase in thefts and people wandering and peering in windows again at all hours of day and night,
c) a huge number of piles of garbageincluding quantities of needles, tourniquets, and other drug paraphernalia throughout Belle Park that present a real danger to the community at large esp. children and pets) and
d) a large number of illegal campsites nearby in Belle Park (at least 20 seen on a recent visit) some hidden in the bushes and others in plain view. Illegal campsites also proliferate on nearby city-owned and privately owned land.
e) stolen bicycles and bicycle parts being reworked
g) cutting down trees and destruction of habitat
A few considerations about the Integrated Care Hub on Montreal Street and the good they do:
1. This is a “heart-led” program that truly provides a caring service to those in need. Research on resilience has shown that people can endure a lot of trauma if they have just one person who cares about them. Many of the clients have difficult past histories where they were not cared for.
2.Staff work hard and feel genuinely privileged to serve our weakest and most vulnerable community members – sort of like being a mom. In fact, some clients refer to staff as “mom”.
3. Over 400 overdoses have been preventedcaused by approximately 200 clients.
4. It is an overdose prevention site that provides safe consumption and treatment services with a paramedic onsite from 11 am – 7 pm daily.
5. Staff are composed of 6 each day, 7 each evening and 7 each overnight.
6.Staff is in close contact with Street Health, HARS and city staff as well as other relevant organizations such as Home Base Housing where some of the clients may be referred. The connections function well.
7. Most of the clients are from KFL&A.
8. There are up to 50 overnight spaces within the building. These are mostly full on an ongoing basis – even though it is summer. Worries exist for what will happen in winter.
9. The hub is not considered an official “shelter”. Officially it is a warming and cooling site so restrictions are less severe and more accommodating for those who find it difficult to live in relative isolation within the official rules and regulations of shelters.
10. Pets are accommodated.
11. A drop-in centre exists for 23 hours each day – closed briefly for cleaning twice daily. This space is also used for clients to sleep at night if needed.
12.The clientele is male and female in fairly equal proportions. Both are accommodated.
13. Those under 24 are referred to the youth shelter. Families are referred to Lily’s Place run by Home Base Housing.
14. Recovering addicts are referredelsewhere as the risk of relapse when surrounded by addicts is great.
15. Safe storage is provided for clients’ belongings.
16. From approximately January to May, 2021, the United Way provided funding for some of the clients to work for a few hours a day at minimum wage to help clean up the garbage that proliferates.
Valid Neighbourhood Concerns since establishment of the Integrated Care Hub (ICU):
1. Typically a massive gathering of up to 100 hanging out around 661 Montreal St. makes community members feel unsafe.
2. Most residents in the 5 block area have suffered damage to their properties.
3. Theft is rampant from neighbouring homes and businesses – from generators stolen from the fire department to bicycles, tools, bbq’s, extension cords, backpacks etc. – basically anything not secured – with consequent cost to neighbours and local businesses for new security cameras and safety protocols
4. Belle Park Clubhouse set on fire.
5. Huge destruction of flora including treesand wildlife habitat in Belle Park.
6. Drug paraphernalia left along K& P Trail.
7. Many piles of garbage including used needles and drug paraphernalia throughout Belle Park as well as on city-owned and privately owned land in the area – dangerous for local hikers, children, and dog walkers.
8. Over 400 emergency calls to Police, Ambulance and Fire since mid last year.
9. Many reports to police remain unanswered.
10. Area from Third Crossing to the Woolen Mill being destroyed.
11. Residents feel like prisoners in their own homes.
12. Belle Island Caretakers’ Circle, a group of Indigenous people and allies, remain deeply concerned about illegal campsites, garbage, fires, copper burning and meth labs spilling over onto Belle Island, a sacred Indigenous burial site.
Trying to define needs prior to considering potential actions moving forward.
1. Need for more appropriate and variedhousing options for the most needy among us including transitional housing with and without support.
2.Need to view addiction as a public health issue + need to reduce stigma.
3. Need to define potential actions on the part of all levels of government.
4. Need to address thefts associated with buying drugs – both within the ICU community and the community at large.
5. Need to clean up garbage including used needles that are especially dangerous for children and pets.
Potential actions moving forward:
Canada’s lack of affordable housing is a problem that has persisted for decades. Here is a brief overview.
“Starting in the 1930s and ramping up postwar, Ottawa made a concerted effort through the National Housing Act to ensure Canadians could afford homes of their own. ,,,,In the process, generations of Canadians were empowered to build a solid foundation, wealth and financial stability. (Ene Underwood, CEO for Habitat for Humanity, Toronto Star, Sept 12, 2021)
Later, both the Mulroney and Chretien governments believed that the government had no business in making sure Canadians deserved a roof over their heads. They, along with many other governments worldwide, liberated the housing market from competing with the non-market housing sector and, according to Patrick Condon at UBC (thetyee.ca/Opinion,2021/09/16), “unleashed 30 years of ever more unaffordable and precarious housing for wage-earning families….Today, the housing market is operating in a way that exacerbates inequality.” Governments worldwide are now having to deal with these issues.
Ene Underwood (see above) states further that “The Liberal federal government unveiled a National Housing Strategy in 2018 providing the first national housing framework in over two decades …Notwithstanding many merits, there is broad consensus that the pace and breadth of impact from the strategy must increase – substantially… Canada has the lowest per capita housing supply of any G8 country.” ) She suggests “While provinces and municipalities approve how and where new communities are built, Ottawa can and must play an integral role in housing supply” in the following ways:
1) by setting aside surplus land strictly for development of affordable houses, and
2) by tying funding to provinces and municipalities to ensure that a) surplus land is being set aside for affordable housing, b) zoning is modernized to create more density, and c) barriers that interfere with timely proposals are removed.
Joel Roberts (York University: http://theconversation.com/federal e-election-2021-more-supply-wont-solve-canadas-affordibility-crisis-167620?utm_medium-email&utm_ca) states “Contrary to popular belief, high house prices are not due to supply shortages. The COVID19 pandemic should have made this clear. Despite the slowest population growth since the First World War, and the most number of houses built in more than a decade, prices went up 27 percent”
Patrick Concon (see above) has also suggested that more housing does not reduce prices, that the issue of affordable housing is inextricably linked to income and that a “guaranteed annual income must be married to a fair housing strategy.”
Frances Bula (Globe and Mail, Sept 13) addresses what the federal government has tried recently including the Rental Construction Financing Initiative that provides builders with low-cost loans for the first 10 years of mortgages and the Rapid Housing Initiative provided directly to cities to use funding to purchase small hotels or create temporary modular housing during the pandemic. But these have been stop gap measures, not a long-term solutions.
And then there is the definition of affordable housing – whether it be (capital A) 80% of market value or (lower case a) what people can actually afford.
And of course, Canadian,Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, has spoken eloquently in the film “Push” against the commodification of housing including large companies buying and selling housing as investments.
What the City has done and is doing
The City of Kingston has tried hard to deal with all of this. It has had a committee, the Mayor’s Taskforce on Housing, and also the recently formed Community Liaison Board.
Three affordable housing initiatives have been created in a remarkably short period of time.
“We all know affordable housing is a critical need in our community. That’s why I’m proud that we’re making the biggest investment in affordable housing that the city has ever made. At our City Council meeting this week, we approved over $18 million in city capital funding to advance three different affordable housing projects in partnerships with non-profits and a private developer. The first project is here at the youth services hub run by Home Base Housing. With $6.7M in city funds, this will help with the construction of 48 new affordable housing units for at risk youth in our community. This new housing will be critical to help homeless youth overcome life challenges and get back on their feet.
We’ve also dedicated $1.8 M to fund 28 affordable housing units as part of a new housing development by ARM Construction on Bath Road in the west end of the city. This is a great location on a major transit route and it helps with our overall goal of integrating affordable housing throughout our community. Finally, council approved $4.2 M for Kingston Cooperative Housing and $5.8 M for Kingston Frontenac Housing towards funding 90 affordable housing units at a development at Hillendale and Princess St. Together with federal funding from the National Housing Strategy I’m hopeful that this project can now go forward to construction. This is the largest affordable housing project the city has ever been involved in. By approving this funding now, we’re hopeful we can get shovels in the ground as quickly as possible and help as many people as possible find an affordable place to live.”
In addition, Council approved the construction of a pilot project for eight tiny homes
Housing affordability continues to be a top priority for myself and City Council. We’re working on a number of different policies and strategies to provide lower cost housing options. One recommendation from the Mayor’s Taskforce on Housing was to explore opportunities to build tiny homes which are smaller and more affordable than other traditional types of housing. At our City Council meeting this week, we approved a new partnership with Habitat for Humanity (HFH) for a pilot project to build eight tiny homes on MacCauley Street just down from the Rideau Heights Community Centre.
HFH has been active in Kingston for many years. They’re able to build homes at lower costs by using donated labour and materials which in turn translates into more affordable housing options. With this partnership, the City will donate this parcel of land and provide funding to cover development charges and other planning and engineering fees. This will allow the construction of eight tiny homes between 350 and 500 square feet with a layout similar to a studio apartment. HFH with then work with the City and other partners to house individuals on the social housing waitlist and will have rates for either for rental or home ownership that are geared to income. With this initiative, together with the Homes for Heroes project that will offer tiny homes for military veterans, we’re taking an important step forward to develop creative and quality affordable housing options. I’m looking forward to seeing construction begin.
Considerable work remains to be done by City Staff in collaboration with the Integrated Care Hub and other social service agencies in the city to provide alternative forms of housing including transitional housing with and without support, possible cooperative housing arrangements etc.
2. Addiction as a Public Health Issue.
Clearly Portugal got this right. You can google what that country has done. Addiction is treated as a public health issue. Addicts are no longer stigmatized. Addicts have legal access to drugs and are helped to overcome their addictions. Costs to the public purse have been drastically reduced. This approach must be instituted at the federal level with adequate funding provided to provinces and municipalities. It will save lives, create more caring communities and save taxpayer dollars in the long run.
3. Possible actions by all levels of government to address addictions and housing.
a) The federal government needs to follow Portugal’s lead and create legislation based on addiction as a public health issue and fund the provinces and municipalities accordingly.
b) Vacant federal, provincial, and municipal lands need to be donated for affordable housing.
c) All levels of government need to support more alternative forms of housing such as coops and transitional housing.
d) Municipal governments need to reduce bureaucratic planning blocks for builderssuch as permit delays, forgive some costs, and have builders include more affordable housing in their projects.
e) Cities should move towards e-permittingwith possible federal assistance.
f) Land transfer tax cuts will help general affordability.
g) Blind bidding should cease.
I’m sure there are many more possibilities that the City’s Community Liaison Board will suggest in due course for first time buyers and to help the homeless. The problem of course is that most home owners quite like the fact that their homes are increasing in value. It is the renters and the homeless who are suffering more. But in the end, if the addiction, homelessness and criminality issues are not addressed we all suffer.
4. Addressing criminality and theft issues
a) Staff at the Integrated Care Hub are working currently with the city on a possible “Community Support Program” continuing that funded earlier by the United Way where clients will receive close to minimum wage for being employed to clean up the many piles of garbage littering Belle Park and surrounding open spaces.
This makes sense for a number of reasons:
i) Clients will earn money for the drugs they depend on – thereby eliminating or at least reducing theft.
ii) Clients will gain some self respect and dignity.
iii) The city will save money currently spent by city employees doing clean-ups.
iv) The neighbourhood will benefit from a cleaner, safer environment.
b) Individuals can help individuals. Here is a case in point.
Here is the story in full from the Kingstonist.
David McDonald with his new micro home structure.
While working one day from home on her front porch, Kim Cormier, a mortgage agent in Kingston, saw David McDonald struggling with the tire of his scooter in front of her house. As Cormier describes, it was a hot, humid day, and she offered to help the man and asked if he’d needed any water. McDonald then went to get a new insert for his scooter’s tire from the Canadian Tire nearby, while Cormier made sure his things were safe. After returning from the store, McDonald and Cormier chatted, and she heard about his troubles, particularly homelessness.
“We then chatted while he fixed his bike, and he told me about his troubles as a man without a home, City Bylaw [enforcement] not allowing him to camp, and how most homeless individuals have a very bad reputation in this country and city,” said Cormier.
After a couple of months, McDonald came back to Cormier’s doorstep after losing a rented room. The landlord had taken the first month’s rent, but had kicked him out and destroyed his items, including a scooter, buggies, and all his belongings, Cormier relayed. She then offered to let him stay in her backyard for the night, and then he started to stay there periodically afterward. After a few weeks, her friends also chipped in with donations like clothing, a tent, an air mattress, hygiene products, and food for David.
“Spending time at home and with David, my partner, Andrew, and I decided that we should start looking for a more permanent solution for the winter. As we live in a one-bedroom home and would offer a bedroom if we had it, we needed something else. He was already using our facilities, showering in our home, cooking with me, and doing his laundry. We thought a micro home would be the best option for him to get through the winter,” said Cormier.
After research on social media, Cormier found Our Livable Solutions (OLS), a group of people that provide solutions aiming to end homelessness. “I reached out to them with an inquiry about their micro homes, and Crystal Wilson followed up with me. We met up, and she put me in contact with EnerDynamic Building Systems out of Niagara falls,” said Cormie (click on above link for complete story)
c) A city fund could be set up to help the homeless where residents could donate for tax refunds.
d) Perhaps community members could work alongside some of the clients to plant trees?
5) Need for Clean-up of excessive amounts of dangerous garbage.
Perhaps members of the Community Liaison Board could organize clean-up days where community members could volunteer alongside clients to deal with this devastation and possibly get to know one another in better circumstances. This could be a first step towards reducing stigma and having clients better understand neighbourhood concerns.
These are difficult circumstances we are in, difficult for the clients, difficult for local residents and businesses, difficult for paramedics, police and fire.
Here are some links if you are interested in learning more from a variety of different perspectives:
The neighbourhood position:
The UN’s position:
Getting to know some of the clients
City of Kingston perspective
I truly hope you take a bit of time to familiarize yourselves with this situation. It is really important that we try to work together as a community to solve these issues.
Thanks so much.
The October newsletter will return to the normal format.
Mary Farrar, President,
Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour
Dear Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour,