City Council approves sleeping cabins concept for Kingston’s homeless

Barry, an advisor with of ‘Our Livable Solutions,’ gives the thumbs up while sitting in the entrance of a sleeping cabin, or tiny home, constructed by the organization. Kingston City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 in favour of a sleeping cabin program for those without homes in Kingston, consisting of up to 80 such cabins. Submitted photo.

Kingston City Council convened on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, with Report #89 of the CAO being one of the primary topics of focus in meeting’s agenda. Specifically, several delegates spoke to address the city’s ‘Winter Response Plan’ for homelessness and the lack of available temporary housing for Kingston’s vulnerable population. For many of those delegates, the goal was to present their case and ultimately convince Council to approve the placement of up to 80 sleeping cabins as temporary shelter and safe haven for individuals experiencing homelessness in Kingston this winter. The concept would otherwise potentially interfere with existing city bylaws.

Kingston entrepreneur Chrystal Wilson, executive director of Our Livable Solutions (OLS) (a not-for-profit organization that aids homeless individuals and families in Eastern Ontario communities), was the first of delegate to speak, and to put forward the motion for placement and construction of the cabins in Kingston. Wilson asked members of council if a city arena could be used to build, stage, and support these structures before deployment, stating that any of Kingston’s arenas would be a suitable venue for members of OLS to do so.

“Our response to homelessness should be one of care, which puts people first, and acknowledges the challenges which cause their struggles,” Wilson passionately told Council. “Improving the Winter Response Plan – including sleeping cabins – is a step in this direction.”

A look inside an already-constructed ‘sleep cabin,’ like those that will be used within the City of Kingston after a vote in favour of a sleeping cabin program from City Council. Submitted photo.

These 12 x 9 ft (3.7 x 2.7 m) cabins would contain heating, lighting, smoke detection, and internet access, among other everyday essentials, and would ideally be situated in multiple areas in and around the city in an effort to increase availability for those with limited means of travel.

Wilson expressed that the ‘primary goal’ of the sleeping cabins was as a temporary shelter where homeless individuals could achieve safety. Once an occupant is safe and stable, OLS could work with homelessness service providers to help find more permanent solutions, or wait for transitional housing to become available for them in the interim.

The floor also opened up to delegate Jenoa Meagher, speaking on behalf of The Katarokwi Union of Tenants, which actively works to provide Kingston’s homeless with essential supplies. Meagher lent her voice in support of the sleeping cabins, citing that the more stable encampment-like setup would facilitate the amount of work necessary to replace the lost items and essential supplies which often occurs after the forced eviction of Kingston’s homeless.

“We are in a constant loop fundraising, soliciting for donations, visiting encampments to assess needs, purchasing, delivering, and so much more,” said Meagher. “As the city continues to force people out of their encampments time and time again, they lose much of their belongings.”

The evening’s third delegate to speak was Queen’s University professor emerita of 19th century religious history in North America, Marguerite Van Die, who not only voiced unwavering support of the sleeping cabin endeavor, but also proposed augmenting the plan from a $150,000 dollar venture to a more robust “three year pilot project” wherein the City of Kingston would provide the land needed for the project, as well as funding for an accompanying service centre.

“This [concept] would, of course, require a more significant investment than the proposed $150,000. However, the construction and funding of the sleeping cabins could become a community project,” Van Die told Council.

After the delegates’ heartfelt words, accompanied by the pragmatic and fiscally sound proposals, members of Kingston City Council appeared galvanized, and unanimously voted in favour of the motion to allow the construction and placement of the sleeping cabins.

Chrystal Wilson admitted that when she had heard the news that the motion had been unanimously passed, she felt genuine surprise at the level of support that was garnered by members of council.

“When it came to our motion, we initially thought there would be some kind of debate, but when we heard it had been passed unanimously, we were like – what?!”  Wilson revealed. “So, it’s great! We are happy! It’s a big step forward, and I know it’s a change from what the City had planned, but we could clearly see that the trajectory of what we had conformed to was not working.”

Firmly given the green light from Kingston City Council, and with future financial and volunteer backing from various not-for-profit and religious organizations in Kingston, OLS now seems poised to make what they believe is a much-needed significant change to the way vulnerable populations in Kingston will be protected and uplifted in the future, despite land availability for the project remaining a pressing issue. While where the sleeping cabins will be located remains unknown, Council agreed on the idea to have them spread out throughout the City of Kingston.

For more information on the project, or to make charitable donations, visit the Our Livable Solutions GoFundMe page.

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