Homelessness in Kingston just the tip of the global ‘social crisis’ iceberg

A homeless man on Princess Street with his shopping cart which he indicates ‘houses’ him 24/7, 365 days of the year. Photo by Cliff Morton.

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Article 25 of the UN Charter of Human Rights

I have been attempting, unsuccessfully, to speak again with ‘D,’ the woman who was the inspiration for a previous article ‘She’s a statistic, until you meet her.’ Nonetheless, thank you to those who have responded to this article with your critiques, thoughts, references to information, and suggestions. The comments, from a broad spectrum of perspectives, clearly illustrate both the intellect and the compassion of ever respondent – regardless of their particular view on Kingston’s homelessness situation.

I am learning – quickly enough, I hope – that the issue of homelessness, everywhere, is not only multi-faceted, but incredibly sophisticated. Since I last wrote, I am discovering more about the social, psychological, economic, political, health and moral issues, etc. related to this issue. My newly acquired information and perspectives come from an array of sources, including government, research institutes, journalism, and non-profit organizations. This second article focuses on the foundation for an examination of Kingston’s plan to address our own crisis. The final article in the series will examine our local funding, planning and evaluation strategies in our city’s reaction to this crisis.

The global homeless crisis

Supporting the homeless with permanent housing is an exceedingly challenging task for countries across the globe, and becoming informed regarding the issue demands the recognition that different geographies apply different definitions of the homeless. Descriptions, of course, are essential to understand because they differ from country to country, and the definitions influence both the collection and the analysis of data. The information provided by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) identifies this fact in their Affordable Housing Database. The OECD collection of data includes seven categories of homeless persons:

  • People living rough: Living in the streets or public spaces without a shelter that can be defined as living quarters.
  • People in emergency accommodation: People with no place of usual residence who frequently move between various types of accommodation.
  • People living in accommodation for the homeless: Including homeless hostels, temporary accommodation, transitional supported. accommodation, women’s shelters, or refugee accommodation
  • People living in institutions: Including people who stay longer than needed in health institutions needed due to lack of housing, and people in penal institutions with no housing available prior to release.
  • People living in non-conventional dwellings due to lack of housing: where accommodation consists of mobile homes, non-conventional building or temporary structure, and is used due to a lack of housing and is not the person’s usual place of residence.
  • People living temporarily in a conventional house with family and/or friends due to lack of housing.
  • Other: Elements linked with the person’s living conditions or status not included above, according to which he/she is counted as homeless.

The OECD’s language is generally focused on “people” in homeless situations. The list does incorporate several categories which to most of us, are not visible: that of the “temporarily housed.”

Global organizations identify a second primary impediment to both the funding and subsequent addressing of the homeless population, and this is the concern that there is not yet an active sharing of resources between many institutions. This impediment on a global scale is, however, addressed by the worldwide website The Institute of Global Homelessness (OGH). The OGH Hub self-identifies as an organization that “connects researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to one another, to ideas, and to effective practice around the world.” The OGH Hub recognizes the necessity for a collective sharing of information among organizations. It makes the argument that this collaboration not only supports the development of solutions, but proves very useful in finding solutions that are cost-effective.

The homeless crisis in Canada

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) describes itself as the “largest national research institute devoted to homelessness in Canada.” It seeks to establish research and policy partnerships between academics, policy and decision-makers, service providers, and people with lived experience of homelessness. The primary resource depot of the COH is the Homeless Hub which includes access to:

  • COH Publications: this link contains a focus on homelessness different from the OECD, as its publications in this database focus on homeless youth.
  • Systems Planning Collective is a function of this site that specifically addresses one of the main impediments identified by the OECD, a collaborative approach among communities across the country. There is content here that not only identifies strategies related to the management of homelessness, but more importantly links for towns to avail themselves of “technical assistance,” “training and resources,” and “quality assurance” standards.
  • Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Demonstration Lab (Mts DEMS): the COH describes this resource as a “multi-year collaborative project working to develop approaches to support the prevention and facilitate sustainable exits from homelessness.’ This link lists three current demonstration projects: ‘Housing for Youth,’ ‘Youth Reconnect,’ and ‘Enhancing Family and Natural Supports.’
  • The Homeless Hub Blog: this is a standard blog with postings such as ‘Ending Homelessness in St. John’s: Ten Things to Know.’ This post (November 28, 2019) serves as a perfect example of the power of sharing resources as an examination of the ‘10 Things’ quickly educates the reader to components of solutions to homelessness that may be appropriate to examine and implement.
  • Hub Solutions: “The mandate is twofold… to build research evaluation and design capacity… to improve our collective responses to homelessness” and “income from Hub Solutions fee-for-service work, is reinvested into the COH.”

Our Canadian government, through Employment and Social Development Canada, addresses the national homeless crisis collected under the title ‘About Reaching Home: Canada’s Homeless Strategy.’ The services linked here include:

  • Funding Streams: which lists both national and regional sources for eligible projects
  • Find a Community: this section of the site links to specific communities. For example, this site includes a link in the section for Kingston to the United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington,
  • Reaching Home – Canada’s Homelessness Strategy Directives: the ‘Redesign of the federal homelessness program’ illustrates the $2.2 billion designated to “tackle homelessness across the country.” The site introduces a multitude of links to the redesigned initiative including:
    • Housing first
    • The coordinated access system
    • Homeless individuals and family’s information system (HIFIS)
    • Shelter capacity
    • Shelter use data
    • Nationally coordinated point-in-time counts
    • Territorial homeless stream
    • Homelessness in rural and remote areas
    • Designated communities (how to apply for project funding)

The Canadian resources listed here both differ from the global OCDSB designation of the homeless, primarily in the sense that those who require assistance are recognized as having specific group needs – for example, youth or our aboriginal population. This comprehensive analysis approach becomes even more evident when examining our local Kingston strategies, solutions, and evaluations.

Next article: The homeless plan in Kingston

Photo by Cliff Morton.

To effectively investigate our city’s response to our homeless crises, even a basic understanding of this social crisis worldwide and in Canada is paramount. Agencies are recognizing the necessity of a collaborative approach if the crises is to be effectively eliminated. Of course, no two locales are identical and therefore require approaches that reflect the specificity of the locale situation. Nonetheless, a global and national coordinated resource catalyst effectively provides access to proven solutions that may be locally employed. Kingston’s homeless crisis is, of course, the tip of the global iceberg. This fact does not diminish the necessity of a made-in-Kingston approach developed and implemented from the information that is now available to us world-wide. Many efficient and cost-effective solutions are in place in our city. The resourcefulness of our approach requires our compassionate citizenry to understand that even a statistical number of one homeless individual is too many homeless persons. That one individual is just a statistic until we recognize that they are someone’s brother, sister, son, daughter, etc., and require all the resources our city can muster.

Cliff Morton now lives in the Village of Bath. He grew up in the 1950s and ’60s along the Bay of Quinte on the Loyalist Parkway. A former secondary school teacher, his hobbies include reading, writing, birding, fishing, and photography. He enjoys connecting with his community by reading responses to his Kingstonist articles and roaming the fields and forests in the Kingston area with his two golden retrievers.

6 thoughts on “Homelessness in Kingston just the tip of the global ‘social crisis’ iceberg

  • We have many new buildings going up in Kingston to house Queen’s students. This is fine but I worry about the working poor and the homeless. Nothing seems to be happening to help them. We can’t continue to stick our heads in the sand over this issue. We are being greedy and heartless. Money can be found for another bridge but not to help those who have to sleep outside all winter. The rents are skyrocketing and no one has put a cap on it. The sky is the limit. This is unreasonable. No doubt the taxes have gone up on privately owned homes so the rent goes up but if those tax dollars aren’t helping those less fortunate how can we explain this?

    • Free market capitalism is greedy and heartless. That’s how it works

    • Rent control history in Ontario is a convoluted mess
      It seems there is rent control on units built in particular time frames, maybe ?
      Not on new construction
      Successive governments of all stripes removed, added and tinkered with rent controls none with an eye on the poor or under employed
      A major issue is the loss of rental property due to conversion to condo’s
      Airbnb is another issue reducing rental properties as more money can be made from short term rentals over monthly
      Another issue is the downsizing, downloading, removal and closure of former Provincially funded services and institutions with no alternatives in place over the last 20, 30 years
      Keep in mind the electorate voted the governments collectively responsible for the current situation into office

  • Bravo! One of the BEST articles I have seen penned in Kingston. Solid research and reaching out those in the trenches.

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