City of Kingston declares mental health and addictions crisis

The City of Kingston has declared a mental health and addictions crisis, requesting that the Ontario government “immediately invest in additional health care resources including treatment and rehabilitation beds in Kingston to support those in need.”

The declaration came immediately after Kingston City Council passed a motion at its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2023, to delay the eviction of encampments at Belle Park and, as per an amendment, to spend approximately $150,000 over the course of two months in order to provide additional services to the site, including outdoor washroom facilities, garbage removal services, and 24/7 security. The declaration, which came as a surprise new motion and was not on the agenda, was moved by Mayor Bryan Paterson, seconded by Councillor Gregory Ridge, and passed unanimously.

“The city continues to do everything within its control and more to support to those experiencing homelessness and mental health and addiction challenges – including creating additional shelter bed capacity, opening new warming centres, providing a safe space for people’s belongings, offering free transit passes for people to move between shelters and support services, and increasing the municipal budget to support these initiatives,” the new motion read. “The current situation many unhoused individuals are experiencing is complex and requires more thorough specialized health care and health related support — critical aspects beyond what the city can and is mandated to provide.”

Noting that the Ontario Social Services Relief Fund is set to end on April 1, 2023, and asserting that the city cannot “continue to invest in short term solutions, diverting resources from other critical municipal services without sustained, long term support from the Ontario government,” the declaration asked that the province lead an emergency working group of representatives from local social service groups, health care organizations, the City, police services, and other stakeholders in the sector to “coordinate resources and services to develop a long-term solution tailored specifically to the mental health and addictions and unhoused situation in Kingston.” Through the motion, the mayor was also tasked with sending a letter to the Ontario Ministers of Health, Mental Health and Addictions, and Municipal Affairs and Housing to “better collaborate and coordinate resources within their ministries to influence change in this unprecedented situation.”

“One thing that I will add, this is not in the motion, but I do want to let Council know that I’m a member of the Ontario Big City Mayors’ Caucus. This represents the mayors of the 29 largest cities in Ontario. Every one of us have asked the province for an emergency summit with the province to deal with this issue,” Mayor Paterson said as he spoke to the motion prior to voting. “So I am hopeful that we can press for real change. I just want you to know that there is advocacy that is happening, but I think having Council support, which is what this motion is talking about, being able to make sure that we are all united when I’m talking to the province would be very, very helpful for me. So I would certainly appreciate Council support of this motion.”

Councillors around the horseshoe spoke enthusiastically in favour of the motion.

“One of the things that certainly we’ve struggled with this evening is engendering some hope for change,” said Councillor Conny Glenn. “I had opportunity in the City of Toronto to chair a board for youth mental health agency that was working at a time when there was definitely not a lot of funding but better funding [than there is now]. To see youth come into a shelter, be transitioned into a group home, be counselled… and then be transitioned into their own living space. It can be done, but it takes the support that we’re asking for from the province. So, I can speak to how powerful it is when we get the right health care professionals, social workers at the table to be able to manage these situations. So, I’m really hopeful that what we’re going to get out of your summit, out of reaching out to the province, is that they will recognize that this can be done.”

“I support this motion, both in spirit and intent,” said Councillor Brandon Tozzo, “and I’d like to just recognize the effort that the mayor has made in the past few years at advocating for this city, and I don’t think anyone around this horseshoe table doubts the commitment that you have made for this unhoused community or the Integrated Care Hub… I don’t like slapping a bandaid here and slapping a bandaid there. We don’t have the resources. We don’t have the ability. Nobody, I think, who voted for the previous motion… believes that the City can provide those long term services… I no longer want bandages, I want solutions.”

“I know that it’s obviously not a unique problem to our municipality, but the ICH (Integrated Care Hub), from my understanding, is, and we need for it to be a perceived success to the rest of the province,” said Councillor Vincent Cinanni. “And we need to make sure that they continue to do the great work that they do, and then that the rest of the province can see it… We need to get the support of all the big cities, as best we can, because I think it needs to be a huge, unified front… because I think that’s the only way to really make a big impact… And if we can all band together as a province, municipality by municipality, then hopefully we can enact the change that’s actually needed to be able to not put bandaids… but to really make a big impact and fund the solutions that are there.”

“Obviously, I really appreciate this motion, as well, and I think it puts it in a very clear light and perspective, and I know that it will carry weight, and I appreciate it being put together, because it needs to be said,” Councillor Gary Oosterhof agreed. “I think… we may have to go to a made-in-Kingston solution beyond this motion… And I think that we ought to conduct ourselves by having extra meetings… working in subcommittees in some form. And I’ll commit myself to that and to actually put something together, because I feel like the federal and the provincial government have abandoned their responsibilities, and so we need to do the right things, the hard things… I obviously will support it, and we can put put our best foot forward… we probably need to do more around this table. And I want to be part of that.”

“The call-out is long overdue,” said Councillor Ryan Boehme, “and I know that the mayor has been working in the background to try to find many solutions to this. And if I can steal a couple of words from my colleague, Councillor Tozzo, yeah, I’m pretty frustrated, too, that we’re ‘bandaid politicians.’ And that seems to be the downloading that’s been happening for years, as long as I’ve been on council, and even before I’ve been on council. It typically comes with ‘Congratulations, you’re now the owner of this, and here’s some funding, and that’s going to expire after 10 years, and then who knows what’s gonna happen, but find a way to make it work.’ And so I think what this motion does is, quite literally, rips the bandaid off the problem. It exposes it. It calls out the other levels of government. And it basically full-on says we, as municipalities, are not equipped, we’re not funded, and we cannot do this alone.”

“We need the community, and I’m asking the community… all those advocates who reached out to us, please canvass, petition the other levels of government, because it’s very easy to reach us, and we, as one body, will pass this motion and send it up, but it is far more powerful if we pass this motion and send it up, and 500 emails come to those other levels of government in support of this motion, recognizing ‘Hey Kingston’s on board,'” Boehme continued. “We need people, every individual who wants to engage on this, every individual who’s affected, everyone who reached out to us, push that up to the next level, make our voice stronger as a city. My only fear with this motion is that people go, ‘Oh, Kingston Council has it,’ and then they go quiet. And we can’t let that happen here. We need those other levels of government to get the same messaging that we’ve been getting for the last two years on this, because that will truly galvanize change, and that will hopefully get our MPs and our MPPs in the room as part of the conversation and real change to talk about real funding and real solutions, instead of the patchwork that we’ve been attempting to do. And our hearts are in the right place, but we have to admit to ourselves, we do not have the resources, nor do we even have the jurisdiction to do this properly. So, I’m going to happily support this and I’m going to call on the community to backup Council’s motion here and to basically continue to advocate with us for these changes.”

Kingstonist will provide coverage of the motion to strike a moratorium on the Encampment Protocol later in the day.

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