Members of Kingston City Council voted on Tuesday, Aug. 9. 2022, to begin public consultations regarding a permanent location for its sleeping cabins program, which could see the cabins housed year-round at Rideau Marina or Rodden Park.
The program was first introduced at the beginning of 2022, with Council supporting 10 sleeping cabins at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour (POH), which have been operated by Our Liveable Solutions (OLS). In May, Council approved a temporary relocation of the cabins from the POH to Centre 70, with a busy summer sailing season at the Harbour forcing the move.
At that same May Council meeting, members opted to take a seasonal approach to the location of the sleeping cabins, with the program set to return to the POH site this fall. Staff were also directed by Council to investigate a more permanent location so that the cabins would no longer have to move between the two sites.
At the end of June, Council approved funding for 10 additional cabins, bringing the total number of City-owned sleeping cabins to 20. According to a staff report, both Centre 70 and POH can only accommodate 15 sleeping cabins, meaning that the existing locations would not be able to support the program in its full size.
At Tuesday’s meeting, councillors were presented with a number of different options regarding a permanent location for the cabins, with Rideau Marina emerging as staff’s preferred site. The marina is currently owned by Homestead Land Holdings, and the company has offered to lease the property to the City for $1 per year. Homestead has also offered a donation of $750,000 to help cover some of the initial costs of the relocation, as well as three yearly donations of $50,000 to cover additional operating costs.
Staff did investigate several City-owned properties, including a site at Rodden Park within the Calvin Park neighbourhood. The Rodden Park site would be able to accommodate all 20 cabins, with an estimated capital cost of $586,000. According to the report, “Staff had the opportunity to discuss Rideau Marina and Rodden Park with OLS who is supportive of these locations and has identified Rideau Marina as the preferred location due to its privacy and the ability to create a better sense of community.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, councillors had the opportunity to hear from members of the public regarding the sleeping cabins project. Dawn Clarke reflected on the ways Kingstonians have responded to the housing crisis. “I’ve witnessed the response of Kingston citizens to unhoused people…. The outpouring of concern is immense. Often the genesis of a group’s concern and compassion is the actual arrival of unhoused people in their neighbourhood. Rather than ‘NIMBYism,’ I have encountered and witnessed an urgent desire to help.”
Clarke went on, “The recent support from Homestead Land Holdings is a manifestation of the response of the community to the plight of [their] unhoused neighbours.”
Christine Sloan, a local minister and a board member with OLS, offered her personal reflection on the sleeping cabins program. “While living and working in the west end, I and so many others [have been] sheltered from the real world issue of homelessness. I could easily close my eyes and go about my daily business, without a second thought [for] those who are struggling. Homelessness is like many things in life: if you don’t see it, [you] can ignore it. In June, the sleeping cabins moved to my neighbourhood, and… this was a like a light shining in our neighbourhood… We are excited to see what opportunities there are to offer a lifeline to our new friends, our new community members.”
Once the report was brought forward for debate, Pittsburgh District Councillor Ryan Boehme stressed the importance of public consultation. “Community engagement is what’s going to also create community buy-in for the sites that are selected. Ensuring that that engagement process unfolds and that people truly feel that their concerns are answered… is how we ensure that, wherever these go, they’re successful.”
Simon Chapelle, Councillor for Loyalist-Cataraqui District, argued that the program should be for people in Kingston, as opposed to other communities. “You make a great service to help people get on their feet, and it attracts other community members from outside [Kingston]… As taxpayers, I think we need to be very responsible, in that those that we’re helping are people who are impacted here locally in Kingston.”
Chapelle also asked staff to address some potential “cash flow” issues between the City and OLS. Ruth Noordegraaf, Director of Housing and Social Services for the City, said the issues have been resolved: “We have been working with OLS and have rectified the situation and will [provide] cash flow in monthly amounts ahead of time, and a reconciliation after.”
Following the meeting, Chrystal Wilson, Director at Large for OLS, pointed to the difficulties raised by her organization having to prepay expenses – including staff salaries – which are later reimbursed by the City. While Wilson confirmed that the City of Kingston has committed to changing the funding model for the sleeping cabins so that the project receives funds monthly, that model has yet to take effect, she said.
As part of the overall decision, Council also approved the allocation of additional funds ($128,000) for OLS, allowing the organization to provide services at the POH site this fall and winter (until the end of April 2023).
With Council directing City staff to complete a community engagement process with respect to the two sites, the City is targeting this September as a timeline for the public consultations. A permanent location for the sleeping cabins is expected to be ready by late 2023, with the City needing to order a “mobile modular building” to provide necessary services and amenities. The modular building is expected to take up to twelve months to construct and could cost the City a total of $266,000.