The fate of the City of Kingston’s sleeping cabin program will be decided on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, as Kingston City Council members consider a number of options for the future of the project, which first began back in 2021. In a report circulating in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, Jennifer Campbell, the City’s Commissioner of Community Services, has identified four different options for councillors to choose from.
Option One is a continuation of the existing model, which sees the cabins housed at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour (POH) during the fall and winter, before moving to Centre 70 in the spring and summer. With staff having to move the cabins twice a year, the first option also includes a $90,000 funding commitment from the City to support the transfer of the cabins.
“Council could consider continuing this approach beyond the 2023-2024 season and make this a longer-term approach to maintain the program. The POH and Centre 70 facilities have been able to provide the cabins [with] the needed congregate services over the past few seasons,” Campbell’s report notes.
While the program has been a success up to this point, moving the cabins twice a year comes with its share of challenges. According to the report, “This seasonal approach does disrupt the residents of the program and does create additional pressures on the community uses of these facilities. To date, the program’s impact on the sites has been mitigated through coordinated planning with other community users and with support from [Our Livable Solutions] as the site operator.”
Since 2021, the cabins have been operated by Our Livable Solutions (OLS), an organization which provides “24/7 on-site staff support and facilitates residents of the sleeping cabin project in connecting with other service providers who deliver homelessness prevention and diversion and Housing First services, and in accessing the addiction and mental health support services which are delivered on-site,” the report notes.
When councillors approved the initial sleeping cabin pilot project back in 2021, the plan was for the cabins to operate for just five months, with the City entering into a five-month term of operation agreement with OLS and contributing $407,000 to the program. The pilot was extended beyond the initial five-month period, with the municipality providing two separate capital contributions of $250,000 and $394,000 in subsequent years. Since 2023, the City has committed $336,000 in operating funding on an annual basis. While the project started out at 10 cabins, it has since expanded to 17 cabins today. Council and the City have both committed to finding a permanent location for the cabins since 2022, when two locations were presented as options. Those two options, according to this most recent report, and being suggested again.
Within Option One is a recommendation to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a permanent operator of the program. As for the terms of the RFP, Campbell writes that proponents would be required to include “a site and community safety plan, a detailed set of program goals and associated performance indicators, and an evaluation and reporting back schedule such that Council is kept updated on the success of the program.”
While this first option represents a continuation of the status quo and would maintain the transient nature of the cabin program, there are two permanent options for councillors to consider.
Option Two in the report would see the cabins take up a permanent home at Rodden Park on Norman Rogers Drive in Portsmouth District. To cover the costs of the long-term relocation, this option would involve a $790,000 financial contribution from the Municipal Capital Reserve Fund.
According to the report, the cabins at Rodden Park would be located to the east of a vacant residential building on the site. A proposed walkway would be added to the park, establishing an additional access point to the cabins. The report notes, “This location was determined to be most suitable in terms of the property’s layout and distance from the primary parkland features,” which include a playground, a municipal greenhouse, and a barn.
Should councillors opt to approve Option Two, Campbell’s report states it would take approximately “six months to a year” to complete the installation of the sleeping cabins at Rodden Park. “This timeline considers the preparation of the site, the securing of heritage and building permits, and the time needed to complete the extension of services (i.e. water, sanitary sewer, electrical),” the report adds.
Option Three would see the cabins move permanently to Rideau Marina in the city’s east end. This third option comes with a price tag of $185,000 from the Working Fund Reserve to prepare the site and move the cabins. The costs for Option Three have been significantly reduced due to a financial committment of $750,000 from Homestead Land Holdings, the current owner of the site.
The report notes that should councillors vote to support the Rideau Marina option, the City would enter into a lease agreement with Homestead for $1 for three years.
Rideau Marina is located at 48A Point St. Mark Drive in the city’s east end, on the east side of the Cataraqui River. The marina has enough space to accommodate the sleeping cabins, which would be located towards the bottom of the site’s driveway, above the water level. An additional pedestrian walkway is also proposed for Option Three. The report notes the site could be ready as early as “fall 2024,” should Council support the third option.
For a permanent sleeping cabin location to succeed, both the second and third options include the construction of a modular mobile common building, to further support residents of the cabins. While Council already directed staff to purchase a modular building for up to $266,000, both options contain additional annual service funding for the building. The Rodden Park option would see the City spend $30,000 on annual service for the building, while the Rideau Marina site would require $44,000 a year. The service funding would be in addition to the $336,000 per year Council has already committed to the sleeping cabins program.
Both Options Two and Three also include the issuance of an RFP to identify a permanent operator of the sleeping cabin program.
As mentioned, the Rodden Park and Rideau Marina options have been discussed previously by councillors, as City staff have worked for several years to identify a permanent home for the cabins, according to the City. During a meeting this past May, councillors considered directing staff to remove both options from the list of possibilities; however, members ultimately voted to continue exploring both locations. During that meeting, Portsmouth District Councillor Don Amos noted his opposition to the Rodden Park location, due to the fact the space is “widely used” by others in the community.
Amos remarked, ”[OLS] would like a space that is not well utilized, not with heavy traffic, and so forth. Rodden Park is not the ideal location for that. It comes back to amenities, as well: there’s not enough in and around that area.”
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh District Councillor Ryan Boehme explained why Rideau Marina was not a suitable location for the cabins. “One of the things that came up through the community feedback, especially for Rideau Marina, is [that] it’s not the right location. Transit-wise, [it’s] not very accessible. The services over here are very remote.”
Following the May Council meeting, staff conducted additional public engagement with OLS, which included an online survey on the City’s ‘Get Involved Kingston’ webpage. The report notes that out of 915 participants, 47 per cent of respondents disagreed with the cabins being located at Rodden Park. The same per centage of respondents also disagreed with the Rideau Marina option.
Besides options for continuing the existing transient model or moving to one of two permanent locations for the sleeping cabins, the staff report contains a fourth option, which would see the City “wind down” the sleeping cabin pilot project. Under Option Four, staff would work with OLS to provide a plan for current sleeping cabin residents to transition to other supportive housing options in the City.
The report adds, “In recent years more housing solutions have [become available] in the community with operations support from a variety of partners, and although the need continues to be high, and deeply affordable and supportive housing solutions are not always easy to secure, staff could be directed to seek out opportunities to provide [alternative] housing options to the residents currently accommodated within the sleeping cabin project.”
Should Council vote for Option Four, staff would have until the end of March 2024 to come up with a transitional plan for sleeping cabin residents. The report does not indicate what would happen to the 17 cabins currently in use as part of the program.
All four options will be presented to Council for debate during its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, at 7 p.m. inside Council Chambers. Full meeting agendas are available on the City of Kingston website. Meetings are open to the public and can be streamed live (or viewed after) on the Kingston City Council YouTube page.