A community tribute to Terri Fleming

Terri Fleming on the front porch at Ryandale House. Submitted photo.

On August 31, 2020, Kingston lost a long-time, tireless worker for people who struggle with homelessness and all life’s challenges. Terri Fleming left a challenge to all of us – to ‘do an act for social change’ – and the community who knew her well will strive to meet that goal.

Terri walked that path every day, first at Interval House and then for 20 years at Ryandale’s homeless shelter. She worked hands-on with hundreds of people.  At Kingston Interval House, she helped support women and children who had left violent homes and turned to the community for help.

 As Pam Harvey of Interval House notes, “Terri worked at Kingston Interval House during the 1990s.  She was a fierce advocate for women and their children experiencing gender- based violence.  Her commitment to improving the lives of those facing poverty and homelessness was steadfast.”  A colleague who worked with Terri at Interval House praises Terri’s “incredible combination of moral integrity, good judgement, diplomacy and compassion.” She goes on to say how they continued to work together fighting for social justice in the years that followed Terri’s time at Interval House. 

Scott Woodall worked with Terri from 1998 when she joined Ryandale Housing until her retirement as its Executive Director almost 20 years later.  “Terri had many wonderful gifts – her patience, wisdom, humour and most especially her true compassion for people and the ability to see the true, deep-seated issues that may have led to their homelessness or personal issues,” he says.

During Terri’s years at Ryandale, the shelter was enlarged twice.  Ryandale was the first homeless shelter in Kingston to have wheel-chair accessibility, and the first shelter to house entire families – men, women and children. Terri was instrumental in opening the Ryandale Transition House that continues to support men making the transition from homelessness caused by addictions, health issues, or when released from corrections institutions.

Terri Fleming (third in from right) with her fellow housing and homelessness advocates at the retirement party for Barb Butler (in the house) from Town Homes Kingston. L to R: Marilyn Birmingham, Patricia Streich, Tara Kainer, Kay Langmuir, Barb Butler (in the house), Terri Fleming, Irene Watt, and Marijana Matovic. Submitted photo.

Through all those years, Kingston’s shelters and emergency services worked together to help as many people as possible, to keep people housed, and to support them through struggling times. “Terri practiced collaborative leadership to get results through collective intelligence. She fostered healthy exchange within groups and reached beyond to others who could further the cause of social justice for vulnerable people. Terri was truly inspirational,” notes Alice Gazeley of the Social Planning Council of Kingston. 

During the years from 2010 to 2014 when the City created its first housing plan, Terri was an outspoken advocate for the emergency shelters and the need to build support for the most disadvantaged in the community. She joined with others in the shelter system and agencies to call for expanded services for those with nowhere to go. Terri was active in a Community Housing Action Group, which made many presentations to Council and met repeatedly with city staff and council members to advocate for changes in Kingston’s housing plan. The Community Housing Action Group spoke loudly at Council many times to oppose closing shelters in 2014.  Sadly, all those words fell on deaf ears and the City decided to close emergency shelters.  Ryandale’s emergency shelter was closed by the City in 2014 – the City simply cut-off operating funding and it was forced to close its doors. Ryandale had to sell its emergency shelter property, though it managed to keep its transitional housing open for people who needed a longer time to transition into their own housing.

From 2017 to 2019, Terri volunteered her time as a member of the City’s Homelessness and Housing Committee, where she continued to raise concerns about the City’s homelessness and housing plan and the continuing homelessness problems.

All of us who worked with Terri admired her resilient spirit and good humour throughout her years of hard work for the most vulnerable people in our community.  We shall miss her voice as we strive for social justice and social change.

Written by Patricia Streich on behalf of herself, Marijana Matovic, Marilyn Birmingham, Matthew Gventer, Barb Butler, Tara Kainer, Irene Watt, Kay Langmuir and many others.

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