Kingston City Council approves relocation of sleeping cabins to Centre 70

At the meeting held the night of Tuesday, May 17, 2022, Kingston City Council voted unanimously in favour of a recommendation from City staff to relocate the City’s sleeping cabin pilot project from its current home at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour (POH) to a new site at Centre 70.

Centre 70 and its grounds, located in Kingston’s west end at the corner of Days and Front Roads, is the temporary new home for the City’s sleeping cabin pilot project, following a decision by Kingston City Council on Tuesday, May 18, 2022. Photo by Penny Cadue.

The cabins, operated through Our Livable Solutions (OLS), will be housed at Centre 70 arena through the summer before returning to POH in the fall. The move was required as the marina is currently gearing up for its busy boating season, forcing the City to find a new location for the cabins. 

Back in November, City Council initially accepted a proposal from OLS to establish a “sleeping cabins pilot project” to provide much-needed shelter for members of the city’s unhoused population. The project saw ten cabins installed at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, which were equipped with insulation and heating, while the site also provided residents with access to bathroom facilities, a kitchen, and laundry machines. 

According to a report from City Staff presented to Council ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, the project “has experienced early successes. Residents of sleeping cabins can access amenities and services that allow them to live more independently. The amenities and support services on site are a critical element of the program and a significant difference from the typical encampments established within the City.” 

The initial POH site was slated to host the cabins until the end of April 2022. However, last month, Council temporarily extended the program at its original location, while staff investigated alternative sites for the pilot project. In their report, staff recommended that the cabins be moved to Centre 70 from late May until September, before being returned to POH in the fall. 

Prior to the official debate on the recommendations, members of Council had the opportunity to hear from two delegates who spoke in favour of the cabins’ move to Centre 70. 

Gary Craigen, a resident of the Reddendale neighbourhood which is home to the arena, said that members of the community are mostly in favour of the project. “When I take a look at our Facebook page, I see far more supportive people… I think the lack of people [here tonight] opposing the cabins being moved… indicates that most people are happy with it,” he said. 

The sleeping cabins at their former location at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour in April 2022. Photo by Penny Cadue.

The second delegation of the night was led by Chrystal Wilson, the executive director of OLS, who has overseen the project since its inception. Wilson spoke about the positive support the project has received from both the communities near POH and Centre 70. “We’ve had a number of comments from our Portsmouth neighbours that they don’t want us to leave, so that’s been really nice, and it makes us feel good,” said Wilson.

Wilson indicated that residents near Centre 70 have also been reassured by the success at the POH site: “I think it’s been helpful to have more information available to the potential new neighbours around Centre 70 because they’ve been able to see how we’ve operated at Portsmouth [Olympic] Harbour.” While she admitted that there have been some negative comments online from nearby residents, Wilson argued that some of these sentiments are a result of people not being properly informed. “I have seen a bit of negative feedback on social media, but most of it, I should say, is not fully understanding the program or not fully investigating the program.” 

Council then proceeded to formally debate the recommendation, with the majority of its members speaking in favour of the move to the new location. Councillor Wayne Hill, whose Lakeside District includes the Centre 70 site and its surrounding neighbourhoods, thanked Wilson and City staff for their work on the file and for ensuring that solutions remain mindful of residents’ interests.

“This has been a challenging file for our community. I want to thank staff who have worked through OLS to make sure that folks in the neighbourhood are confident that this is a good and temporary location for this program. I think the example that was given in Portsmouth probably is the most reassuring thing that could have happened. The program was very successful, and I believe that the neighbourhood really came to support and respond to it,” said Hill. 

While Hill spoke in favour of the recommendation, he also recognized the need to acknowledge residents’ concerns, especially regarding the situation near Kingston’s Integrated Care Hub (ICH). “The concerns, though, are legitimate, and I think we have to recognize what those concerns are and what the foundation of those are,” Hill said. “I don’t believe the concerns in Lakeside really reflect what happened in POH. I think what it does really reflect is that we’ve got a big issue with affordable housing, with housing our unhoused people, with what’s happened in King’s Town [District] around the ICH.”

“Most neighbours that have concerns are concerned with the model that’s happening around the ICH… It has had a dramatic impact on the surrounding neighbourhood. People in every neighbourhood in Kingston are concerned that that model could make its way into their neighbourhood too… Those citizens that live directly near the ICH, they have not been treated well through this process.”

Hill also confirmed with City staff that the move to Centre 70 was temporary and that the cabins would return to POH in the fall. 

Portsmouth Councillor Bridget Doherty spoke about her community’s experience of hosting the cabins this past winter at the Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, and the lessons learned along the way. “It was a huge learning experience for us. [When] it started, we heard similar concerns, and I also recognize that those concerns were legitimate, and they needed to be addressed and talked about. [So] we organized a community meeting, and we had frank discussions, and we respected all of the concerns,” Doherty remarked. 

“It’s been a learning experience, actually, for everyone. The residents of the cabins really learned, I believe, a lot. They learned new life skills, and that was largely due to the support of Crystal and the staff supporting them in moving from a tent to something that resembled closer to an apartment.“

Ultimately, Council unanimously approved the staff recommendation to move the cabins to Centre 70, with members voting 10 to 0 in favour of the move. Councillors Mary Rita Holland and Ryan Boehme were absent.

The process of moving the cabins is expected to begin today and last up to one week. Staff estimate that the plan will cost $14,750, with the relocation and installation of the cabin and amenities inside Centre 70 coming in at $5,750. Meanwhile, residents who are displaced during the move will receive complimentary motel accommodations from the City, which will cost $9,000. 

City of Kingston employees work to rebuild the ramps to the sleeping cabins after the cabins were relocated from Portsmouth Olympic Harbour to Centre 70 on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. Photo by Penny Cadue.

Council was also provided with two other short-term alternatives, which could have been expanded into a year-round operation. The first option would have seen the cabins moved into storage during the spring and summer, displacing residents until they are reinstalled at POH in the fall. Staff acknowledged that such an option would “significantly [impact] residents of sleeping cabins with relocation to motels for months.” With the cabins gone during the summer months, the City would also be responsible for putting residents up in motels, which would likely cost around $40,000 to $45,000 per month. 

The other short-term option would have seen Lake Ontario Park host the cabins during the spring and summer, before their being returned to POH in the fall. This plan would have required some significant upgrades at the host facility. With additional trailers and portable washrooms needed at the park, as well as accommodations required for kitchen facilities and meeting space, the costs of this plan would be significantly higher, with staff estimating the final price tag at around $120,000. 

Even though councillors favoured the plan to relocate the cabins to Centre 70 before returning to POH for a second consecutive winter, several members spoke to the need for more permanent housing solutions. Councillor Hill noted that the sleeping cabin project remains a temporary fix to a problem for which future councils will need to find a permanent solution. 

“We’ve got to find permanent solutions,” Hill said. “I think the task of the next council is going to be to find housing for all of our unhoused people. That’s got to be our number one priority because, you know, this is having a significant impact on our entire community. And it’s worrisome for people, and we need to alleviate the suffering of people who are unhoused.”

Sydenham District Councillor Peter Stroud echoed Hill’s comments, arguing that the cabins were only ever meant to provide temporary relief in the winter: “We have a lot of work to do to actually find permanent solutions for housing because tents and sleeping cabins are, by nature, temporary… it was meant to be an ‘in from the cold’ supportive housing project to help those people right on the edge, and it did that. But we need to help more people.”

While Council’s decision means that the cabins will return for a second consecutive winter, staff have also been directed to investigate several long-term solutions, which could see the sleeping cabins receive a permanent home. These options will be reviewed according to feasibility and viability, with staff presenting options to Council in the third quarter of 2022. 

For now, the decision to relocate the cabins to Centre 70 ensures stability for the residents who have secured housing as a result of the project, with the move causing minimal disruption to their daily lives. 

The sleeping cabin community beginning to take shape at Centre 70 arena on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. Photo by Penny Cadue.

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