The City of Kingston will be opening a new space for those who are between housing or experiencing homelessness during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the onset of the local response to the pandemic, a number of issues have been raised by Kingston residents regarding the current situation for those who are homeless, those who are fleeing abusive relationships, and those who have found themselves between housing. Primarily, the largest concern has been the lack of space in the current facilities and the inability to maintain social distancing within them. Places like Kingston Youth Shelter, Interval House, and the recently-opened Warming and Counselling Centre on Wellington Street have seen an influx of clients, but do not have the capacity to safely carry out their services within current health directives.
The City of Kingston says that plans are underway to open a new space to address the current needs of people in vulnerable housing situations. “We have assessed the impact of COVID-19 to our shelter system and homelessness services with our service providers and immediately began forming contingency plans for those experiencing homelessness in Kingston,” said Robert Hosier, a communications officer with the City of Kingston.
According to a source with inside knowledge of current shelter situations, who prefers to remain anonymous, this expansion of resources can’t happen soon enough. “[Local shelters] have very limited space in which the homeless can stay. They cannot isolate folks and they cannot maintain the social distancing of two meters. They don’t have adequate supplies of hand sanitizers, gloves, masks or gowns,” the source noted. “They cannot isolate anyone if, after they present themselves at the centre, [they] start to display symptoms. The office is not big enough to accommodate three members of staff. It is unsafe for both clients and staff and will continue to spread the virus.”
The source expressed concern about spread of infection that may have already taken place. “They should have shut down a couple days ago. A lot of damage could have occurred already, transmission-wise.” The source added that the Warming and Counselling Centre has been without an on-duty nurse or security person since the evening of Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2020. The City of Kingston would not confirm or deny this assertion when asked for comment.
Hosier said that the existing shelters are operational during this planning process. He also noted that the Warming and Counselling Centre is only seasonal, and is scheduled to close in early April. “Critical pieces of our planning are currently being executed to provide solutions ASAP,” Hosier continued, noting that plans are moving rapidly and that the Leon’s Centre is not being considered as a possible site for providing shelter and care. “The plan to provide COVID-19 appropriate services for those experiencing homelessness is adjusting by the hour… But the City, Queen’s, KFL&A Public Health, KGH and our service providers are all actively working together to finalize solutions.”
“We are supporting our homeless population with the same service levels as before the pandemic, with extra precaution/resources being applied to screening, cleaning and supporting the staff that provide services,” he said.