Letter in response to opinion piece on Kingston’s Sleeping Cabins debate
Editorial note: The following is a submitted letter to the Editor in response to a recently-published submitted op/ed article entitled ‘Opinion: Kingston’s Sleeping Cabin debate’ (Monday, Oct. 17, 2022). The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.
We would like to thank the Social Planning Council for taking interest in our sleeping cabin community and in solutions to homelessness in general. We believe in transparency and accountability, especially when public funds are involved. In 2021, I helped instigate and contributed towards the first ever Value-for-Money Audit by Ontario’s Auditor General of Ontario. (https://www.auditor.on.ca/en/content/annualreports/arreports/en21/AR_Homelessness_en21.pdf) It is hoped that the continued review of programs and funding through the Auditor General will help lead Ontario towards more effective and successful solutions for those experiencing homelessness.
When we advocated for a cabin community with people experiencing homelessness, we had hoped that an existing social agency would accept the challenge and take the risk of trying something completely new for Kingston, designed by those looking for support. Unable to find a willing agency, we accepted the challenge ourselves and built the cabin community and our not-for-profit organization. Providing a safe, warm place to rest and stabilize for people often left behind is very rewarding work but this effort has not been without hiccups, and has created a number of learning opportunities for our residents, staff, advisors, Board, neighbours and the city.
The cabin community is considered ’Transition Housing’ in the continuum of homelessness supports, as is Dawn House, Ryandale, and Tipi Moza. Our cabin community is the lowest barrier and most accessible transition housing option for those experiencing homelessness. Residents have 364 days to stabilize, rebuild themselves and find permanent housing. The supports surrounding each resident are individualized and determined by the resident’s self-identified needs. We coordinate access to other agencies for housing, addiction and mental health, physical health, Indigenous medicine, dental services, counselling, legal services, court issues, probation, identification, and income, and we have assisted most residents in reconnecting with family members. Enabling all of these kinds of supports can only happen with collaboration with many other partner agencies such as Addictions and Mental Health Services (AMHS-KFLA), Home Based Housing, Trellis, Ongwanada, Kingston Community Health Centre (KCHC), Street Health, KFL&A Public Health, Partners in Mission Food Bank, Salvation Army, Community Friends in Motion, Martha’s Table, Home and Community Care Support Services, Service Canada, Service Ontario, the Government of Ontario, and the City of Kingston.
Like all transition housing, our cabins do not fall under the Residential Tenancies Act. Despite this, we try to operate as close as possible to an environment residents should expect once they’re in permanent housing. Residents sign a Participation Agreement, which is written in plain language and includes information about their rights and responsibilities. Policies and written behaviour warnings refer to relevant sections in the signed Participation Agreement. At our own instigation, we have undergone an independent program review by Queen’s Faculty of Health Sciences, which has been released to the City of Kingston, the first of its kind for Kingston. We have also just completed an internal program review, which included confidential interviews to gather feedback from both residents and staff, and we are currently conducting a governance review. In less than a year of operations, we have participated in three self-instigated evaluations to ensure we are operating in a way which honours our residents and our objectives.
Our sources of funding have been well documented within City of Kingston and Kingston City Council public records, limitations on allowed expenses are outlined in our contract with the City of Kingston, and, like all social agencies receiving funding through the City of Kingston, our financials will be reviewed and reconciled with the City of Kingston. Also, like all not-for-profit agencies, end-of-year tax auditing by an accountant will be conducted and, once completed, we will be able to release our financials publicly. Due to the use of municipal properties, there are some expenses not visible to our organization — it will be up to the City of Kingston to release this information.
In less than a year, we have established ourselves as a source of guiding information and documentation for other communities interested in building similar cabin initiatives. We have lent our model cabin — which exists thanks to Cancoil’s team and their friends and family — to Peterborough and Cobourg, and shared as much as we are able with groups in Woodstock, Guelph, Hamilton, Northumberland, Niagara, Kitchener, Belleville, and Toronto. We invite anyone interested to come visit our community, speak with our residents and staff, and gather as much information as they would like. The Social Planning Council is also most welcome to spend some time at our cabin community to have their questions answered directly.
We are challenged with unacceptably low social incomes, scarce attainable, accessible, and supportive housing, and extremely long waitlists for long term care residences. While our residents wish for a permanent place to call home, the reality is that we are operating in a housing environment which is not keen to fulfill wishes. We are also challenged with overburdened and underfunded support agencies with long waitlists to receive needed supports. Especially with the current challenges facing the people we support, it is important to continuously evaluate the entire homelessness continuum to ensure those who need our support the most are being served with dignity and respect with diverse programs which offer the best possibility of success while supporting individual needs.
I’d like to add kudos to the team, three of whom have have eliminated their own dependency on social income/ODSP. All of those on the team have various forms of lived experience. It’s a strong team with a wealth of knowledge and compassion, and their hard work has helped the cabins — and those who live in them — find stability and success.
We hope the Social Planning Council opens discussion to consider the entire homelessness continuum. It’s our opinion that one of the missing pieces is an individual or agency who understands all of the moving parts and can recommend changes to fill gaps and eliminate duplications. The Social Planning Council may be well positioned to participate in this kind of endeavour.
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2 thoughts on “Letter in response to opinion piece on Kingston’s Sleeping Cabins debate”
There are alternatives to putting homeless people into sheds (without plumbing). The City Council and City staff have repeatedly overlooked the potential use of surplus and vacant housing for more than eight years. A prime example is the federal half-way house built for female inmates at 525 King Street West, (which remains vacant). Unfortunately, City staff aimed to reduce the number of beds for emergency homeless shelters in the ridiculous belief that chronic homelessness in Kingston would become a “relic of the past” by 2023. Thus, shelters were shut down, and a subsidized rental program was promoted for the troublesome homeless that shelters didn’t want, “Housing First.” In 2013, the City and County needed to build 1700 affordable housing units, over the next decade. They didn’t even come close! Now, they need to build 6000 affordable housing units. Kingston has a “homelessness industry” consisting of numerous social and charitable programs which perpetuate the problem, instead of solving it. Ontario and the City need to build “rent-geared-to-income” social housing, (not “tiny homes,” “secondary suites,” “sleeping cabins,” etc.); and, meanwhile, the City should find transitional housing to eliminate the unhealthy encampments of the homeless, which the few remaining shelters and charities have failed to accommodate. It’s a mess; it was entirely predictable; and, it’s immoral!
Hearty congratulations for tackling such a major problem with caring