The sleeping area at the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) at Artillery Park has been full for nearly two weeks, City Council learned last night, just hours after the last people remaining at Belle Park were evicted.
“The rest zone has been at capacity for the past 12 consecutive nights,” said Gilles Charette, Executive Director of HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS) at a City Council meeting on Monday, Sept. 1, 2020.
Charette told Council that the ICH has averaged 250 visits each day, serving over one hundred daily meals. As of Friday, Aug. 28, he said they had served 103 unique individuals.
He said the integrated care model is working well, allowing people to easily access a variety of services in one place, including overnight shelter, food, medical, addiction and mental health services. He said the past month of operation has been “exciting and challenging,” offered examples of individuals successfully transitioning into housing, and more consistently following through with medical and psychological referrals.
As a result, however, he said the demand for services is up.
“In the first week, there were 132 visits to the Consumption Treatment Services (CTS),” Charette said. “This is compared to 164 in the entire month of July. [On Monday, Aug. 31] there were 33 visits, which is the busiest day since the CTS opened in Kingston.”
Consumption and Treatment Services Site (CTS) relocated to the Artillery Park ICH in the final week of August, after getting approval from Health Canada to move from the Street Health Centre. Concurrent with that increase in activity, Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health is also reporting an spike in drug-involved overdoses in the area, noted in emergency departments, 9-1-1 calls for overdoses, and at local harm reduction programs.
Charette said 12 new individuals accessed the CTS who had never used the services before. “Many returned, who had lapsed, because of its proximity to other services in the hub. Where the hub model really shines is how it brings together community partners on one site to bring services to the people we serve,” he added.
“The greatest challenge is that the need is so great that it currently exceeds our ability to meet it,” he said.
Evictions at Belle Park Tuesday afternoon
Council heard Charette’s delegation just hours after City Staff and Kingston Police enforced evictions of unhoused individuals camping in Belle Park. A bylaw exemption had previously allowed them to reside there undisturbed, while a number of City partners including the Street Health Centre, HARS and KFL&A public health extended their services to the park.
The bylaw exemption expired on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. According to Robert Hosier, City spokesperson, City staff and community partners have continued to provide transition time and support for individuals to find alternative solutions over the past few weeks. People removed from Belle Park Tuesday were offered assistance to move their belongings and free transportation to the ICH, “or to another location of their choice,” he said.
Even with the sleeping pods occupied at the ICH, visitors are still able to rest in other parts of the drop-in area, which remains open 24-hours, Charette noted. Hosier also confirmed that the In From the Cold shelter had six available beds on Tuesday Sep. 1, as well as ten other overflow beds.
‘Mistrust coming out of the gate’ as people move from Belle Park
Councillor Mary Rita Holland asked Charette whether the stabilizing sense of community that many of the Belle Park residents described had been successfully transplanted to the ICH.
“As a group, by and large, they have got each other’s backs,” Charette said. “The community is already there. They’re bringing, by and large, their community with them. There’s not a lot that we had to do to facilitate [that]… It’s more about re-establishing trust with service providers and the people that we’re serving.”
“We were very intentional about sending our team to Belle Park to engage with the people who were living there, and inviting them very specifically to the hub,” he said.
The City’s decision to transition the services and the people established at Belle Park had ultimately damaged some ties, he said.
“There’s a certain amount of repair that needed to be made as far as relationships,” Charette explained. “There was a mistrust coming out of the gate.”
Charette explained to Council that stabilizing people’s lives by offering them secure, reliable and easy access to service providers is a core component of successful help.
“Our ability to connect these individuals with supports is incredible,” he said. “Client maintenance has improved dramatically because we can actually find the people that we’re trying to serve. In the past, we would have had to discharge people who were not showing up for appointments.”
More changes coming as ICH prepares to move
However, there are further changes on the near horizon for this community. Artillery Park will only house the ICH until Wednesday, Sep. 30. The City has identified a building at 342 Patrick Street, owned by the Salvation Army, as the preferred permanent location.
Council voted unanimously on Tuesday, Aug. 11 to approve the Patrick Street location, however whether the building has been secured is unconfirmed.
Following the deputation, Deputy Mayor Jim Neill called the capacity issues for the ICH alarming. “I know we’re trying desperately not to have campers relocate back into the bush,” he said.
Charette also noted that a small number of people have not been successfully able to access the services at the ICH due to the complexity of their needs, generally related to mental health or brain injury.
“All of these people have aggressive behaviour, do not have anywhere to sleep, and are consistently revolving between hospital and police doors,” he said. “So as a result, wanting to continue to ensure that support and advocacy… we’ve gathered with our partners to offer ongoing case consultation to these individuals.” The hope, he said, is that they can eventually re-engage with the hub.