It’s no secret that housing is a major issue in Kingston, and an issue that affects a wide spectrum of those who call Kingston home – but the issue isn’t solely about a lack of residences to buy or rent.
When looking at the current housing crisis in Kingston, the big picture includes a lack of housing, a lack of affordable housing, and a lack of places to stay for those who find themselves between permanent residences or on the streets, Kingston Coalition Against Poverty (KCAP) argues. And, after five years of shelters being closed in the city, KCAP believes it’s time to show Kingston City Council that there is public support for opening a new shelter space.
On Tuesday, Apr. 9, 2019, KCAP launched a petition calling on Kingston City Council to open a new shelter space with at least 20 new beds.
“With a new council in office, they’ve called for public input, and we view this as the perfect time to let them know that we feel that five years of closing shelters hasn’t been working. The housing wait list has gone up, the number of homeless people in Kingston hasn’t gone down, and conditions are getting worse for them each day,” KCAP said in a press release.
According to KCAP President Ian Clark, the idea for the petition came after his organization began engaging with the new City Council following the municipal election last September. After holding a town hall meeting with Council in December, Clark and his fellow KCAP members have been meeting with councillors on a pretty regular basis, he said.
“The impression that we’ve gotten is that they genuinely do want to help the cause of solving homelessness in Kingston, but there’s so much information out there from so many different sources that it can be a little hard to make sense of it all, especially for those who may be new to council. We’ve therefore decided that the best way forward is not just to tell them what we want, but also to demonstrate why it’s a good idea,” said Clark.
“We’re launching this petition because we want to show council that the public will is there to undo some of the errors of years previous, and to remind them that shelters are still very much on the mind of concerned Kingstonians.”
When presented with the petition and asked for comment, the City of Kingston provided the following statement from the Housing and Social Services Department:
“As you know, affordable housing is a top priority for the City. We remain committed to pursuing the 10-Year Housing and Homelessness Plan, which introduced the successful Housing First model aimed at getting individuals experiencing homelessness into permanent and sustainable housing.
“Although shelters play an important role, and the City continues to support them, they are intended for emergency use and are not a permanent housing solution.
“Since the implementation of the Housing First Model there has been a significant reduction in the usage of emergency shelter beds throughout the City of Kingston. The combined average monthly shelter occupancy rate for 2017 was 70.33 per cent, and for 2018 it has dropped to 63.5 per cent, which is an overall reduction of monthly shelter occupancy of 9.7 per cent. Since 2015, the Housing First Initiative has been responsible for housing 537 chronically homeless individuals.
“The City continues to work closely with all Service Providers in order to understand client needs and provide supports.”
At time of publication (Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2019 at 1:05 p.m.), the KCAP petition for new shelter spaces in Kingston had over 100 signatures.
UPDATE (April 10, 4 p.m.) – The following is a statement from KCAP in response to the statement above from the City of Kingston’s Housing and Social Services Department:
“While we again agree in principle with the notion of building more social housing to reduce the need for shelters and ultimately close them once they are no longer needed, this statement unfortunately creates a false impression that this is what’s happening, when the data do not back this up. Regardless of how many chronically homeless individuals have been housed, the wait list for housing has increased, not decreased, in that time. The new housing being built and implemented, while commendable, has not kept pace with the number of homeless and precariously housed individuals in Kingston, let alone been successful in reducing it.
“As we noted in the petition, shelter use has, in fact, gone down. However, the story that we’re hearing on the ground from those directly impacted by this issue is that this is due primarily to accessibility issues, and conditions at the shelters that remain (we’ve spoken about these issues at length and in greater detail at both our town hall meeting and in previous statements). We are currently in the process of trying to produce some hard data that might shed some light on how prominent these issues are, but so far these are still in the planning stages, and we welcome anyone from the city to come and talk to us about this, and commend those who have done so already. In any case, the notion that reduced shelter usage is caused by reduced need simply doesn’t match up with what data are currently available. The housing wait list continues to grow, and the city’s Point in Time Surveys have indicated no reduction in the number of people living unsheltered on the streets. When the need is demonstrated to be increasing, but the use is demonstrated to be decreasing, it follows that there is something else in play.
“We agree with the city’s statement that shelters are an emergency service and not a long-term housing solution, but like any emergency service, it needs to be there for everyone who needs it in an emergency.”
To find out more about the City’s 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan, click here.
To find out more about KCAP’s petition, or to sign it, click here.