Opinion: Kingston councillors address housing, homelessness, addictions crises

Photos by (left) Jon Tyson, and (right) Lucas Mulder/Kingstonist.

Editor’s note: The following is a submitted opinion piece written by two members of Kingston City Council addressing the housing, homelessness, and addictions crises. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.

It is impossible to walk in Kingston and not witness firsthand the housing, homelessness, and addictions crises. Whether it’s people sleeping on Princess Street, used syringes in parks, or new encampments popping up, it is difficult not to feel frustrated, and look toward our local government for solutions.

As the Councillors for the King’s Town and Kingscourt-Rideau districts, we share in that feeling of frustration.

Canada is in the midst of multiple crises: in housing and homelessness; in food inflation; in affordability in general; and in mental health and addictions. Cities alone cannot solve homelessness because it is a complex issue that requires coordinated efforts at multiple levels of government, as well as community organizations and support services.

While Kingston, like all cities across Canada, is on the frontline of these crises, we cannot combat it single-handedly.

City-level initiatives need support from provincial and federal governments to address these underlying issues effectively. As a Council, we advocate for additional assistance from the provincial government. In January of 2023, we declared a mental health and addictions emergency and requested the province provide adequate supports.

In February of this year, we asked the provincial government to undertake “a comprehensive social and economic prosperity review to promote the stability and sustainability of municipal finances.” Increasingly, property taxes are being used to pay for services that fall within the scope of healthcare – something the province ought to be providing.

It is not fair, and it is not sustainable for a city to continue doing so.

And while we advocate, the crisis continues to grow: the City of Kingston By-Names List (which provides a monthly update of all known individuals experiencing homelessness in the City) has doubled to almost 600 people since the start of the pandemic.

The complexities and scale of homelessness necessitate collaborative efforts from all levels of government, as the underlying issues transcend municipal boundaries. It is a multifaceted problem with root causes spanning everything from economic instability, mental health challenges, substance abuse, and insufficient affordable housing. Such intricate issues demand comprehensive strategies that extend beyond the jurisdictional confines of individual communities.

The financial burdens of addressing homelessness are immense and surpass the capacity of Kingston’s meagre $500 million budget (for comparison, the Government of Ontario’s budget is $214.5 billion, while the federal budget is $535 billion). Though pivotal in delivering frontline services like shelters and outreach programs, cities face fiscal constraints that hinder their ability to provide sustainable solutions. Cities have limited revenues, cannot run deficits, and are, rightly, limited by provincial legislation in the debt they can issue.

Provincial and federal governments, with their broader revenue base and ability to raise funds through taxation and borrowing, are far better equipped to allocate substantial resources toward homelessness initiatives.

Provincial and federal governments possess the resources and authority to implement broad-ranging policies and initiatives to tackle these underlying causes. For instance, they can enact legislation to improve access to mental health services, allocate funding for affordable housing programs, and implement social welfare policies aimed at poverty reduction. Increasing the monthly amount available for those on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) would be a humane first step and mitigate more people becoming unhoused.

With their oversight of healthcare, social assistance, and other key services, the provincial government plays a crucial role in coordinating and integrating these supports. By breaking down silos and promoting collaboration across sectors, they can ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness receive the wrap-around care required to rebuild their lives. The Ford government has committed more financial resources to mitigate the homeless crisis, but nowhere near enough to meet the need.

Cities also face the challenge of community support when services are offered. The City of Kingston recently purchased 309 Queen Mary Road (Extendicare) to offer transitional housing to those experiencing homelessness. While many community members offered support for the development, there has been ongoing pushback from a number of neighbouring residents. This is, unfortunately, all too common when local governments try to provide services to help the most vulnerable. The federal and provincial governments have larger constituencies and are less prone to cater to parochial interests.

The challenge of homelessness in Canadian cities is a multifaceted and deeply entrenched issue that cannot be adequately addressed without support from provincial and federal governments. At our May 7th meeting, we put forward a motion asking staff to provide an estimate of the total costs for solving homelessness in Kingston, including providing enough affordable housing, transitional housing, healthcare and wrap-around services for the almost 600 people on the By-Name List and the nearly 1,500 people waiting for social housing. We expect the number will be in the billions.

Kingston is a caring city led by engaged, supportive, and empathetic leaders. The problem is, we lack the financial resources and legal authority to solve deeply entrenched social issues.

Gregory Ridge
Councillor – King’s Town

Brandon Tozzo
Councillor – Kingscourt-Rideau

Share your views! Submit a Letter to the Editor or an Op/Ed article to Kingstonist’s Editor-in-Chief Tori Stafford at [email protected].

One thought on “Opinion: Kingston councillors address housing, homelessness, addictions crises

  • To the people writing in this space about homelessness and saying the city gov’t needs to care more, I think this response shows that the city is willing to do whatever it can to address these issues when and if it receives financial support from the two senior gov’ts.
    Please read the councillor’s information, again, about the costs, enormous: the inability to run a deficit [not a local decision but the law!] and the fact that the Ontario and federal gov’ts don’t feel the pressure of local issues as much as they should.
    I write this to have people complain to the proper level of gov’t. Your past vehemence against this council is misplaced.

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