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Kingston Women’s Interfaith Group petitions City to keep sleeping cabins

Kingston Women’s Interfaith Group (KWIG), a community of women from various faith backgrounds with the common interest of helping others, has initiated and brought forth a petition to the City of Kingston asking for continued funding and support of the Our Livable Solutions (OLS) sleeping cabins project. The cabins, funded by $257,000 from the provincial Social Services Relief Fund and a $150,000 donation from the Vuorinen Estate, have housed 10 people at Portsmouth Harbour for a pilot period that began on Janunary 17 and is scheduled to end on Saturday, Apr. 30, 2022. The current residents will need to move out of the cabins at the end of the month, as OLS seeks to secure a more permanent location for the small living spaces.

Furnished with donations raised by Kingston Women’s Interfaith Group, Cabin 6 at Portsmouth Harbour awaited its new resident in January 2022. Submitted photo by Debbie Fitzerman.

KWIG has been involved with the sleeping cabin project since its establishment in Portsmouth Harbour in January. The group’s Janurary 22, 2022 newsletter outlined how, “in less than 24 hours [KWIG raised] enough money and material goods to furnish three cabins,” along with physical donations, such as furniture and kitchen essentials. Their donations furnished ‘Cabin number 6,’ as each cabin was furnished by individual groups.

The leftover funds not earmarked for a specific cabin were donated to OLS and used “for food for cabin residents, for personal protective equipment (necessary for safety and for legality), for life-saving items for homeless people, and for various expenses that are crucial in making the sleeping cabin project work,” according to the newsletter.

Since January, the residents of these cabins have seen an outpouring of support, as community members and groups have stepped up to donate meals or host cooking and first aid workshops.

A unique component of the OLS approach to the sleeping cabin pilot project is the goal of giving residents full independence and autonomy, while also providing them with skills and resources — such as sourcing and cooking nutritious meals, obtaining identification, and securing jobs in order to find affordable long-term housing — as opposed to simply providing shelter for one night.

OLS Director Chrystal Wilson said in an interview with Communities – Ontario on YouTube, “We’ve worked through some hurdles, and we’ve noticed that people who have not been successful in congregate settings have been successful here… So, what we’ve found is that this type of model enables stability. It allows people to still be independent and give them autonomy, and it provides support, recognizing that the people we’re supporting are adults and can take care of themselves.”

The women of KWIG and neighbours of the cabins have witnessed the success of the project so far, and they are growing anxious knowing that, as the end of April approaches, so too does the end of the current iteration of the project, and the current tenants’ residency in the harbour.

“[In January, we knew] it was a pilot project,” said Debbie Fitzerman of KWIG. However, “from what we’ve heard, either from our ears to the ground or talking to other people, that [the project has] been successful, and it would really be a shame that something like this just gets dropped.”

With the looming end date in mind, the women of KWIG have created a petition that was brought forth during the City Council meeting on Tues. April 5 for first reading and unanimously approved.

However, some confusion may arise, as multiple petitions on behalf of KWIG have been circulating now, due to the change of the petition’s format from e-mail to Change.org.

“What’s happened is there have been three petitions going. I sent one out and people sent me the permission to give their names. Then… I’ve given those names to Bridget Doherty [City Councillor for Portsmouth District]. And she’s now presented one set of signatures to Council, but the online petition is still going on,” explained KWIG member, Janice Barling.

The online petition — which “implore[s] City Council to continue their financial assistance of this project and grant permission for the sleeping cabins to move to another appropriate location, in the city, which would house more people” — is still in circulation, will close on Mionday, Apr. 18, and will be presented, in addition to the signatures on the first petition, to Council on Tuesday, Apr. 19, 2022.

As you well know, homelessness does not just affect the un-housed: it affects our whole community. It is incumbent upon us, as a proud and caring community, to take care of the most vulnerable and support them in a way that, optimally, will see them transition to independent living. We see the sleeping cabin project as a necessary first step in making this a reality.”

Kingston Women’s Interfaith Group

Barling also noted that those involved are asking community members to e-mail Mayor Paterson and members of Council before the meeting on April 19, “to communicate how the cabins have impacted them… and try to garner more support.”

At the moment, it doesn’t appear likely that OLS can secure a location by the end of April for the relocation of the cabins, although some options are reportedly being explored.

In an earlier interview, Wilson said that OLS knew the location at the Portsmouth Harbour was temporary: “As a sailor myself, I can also respect that, in April, this place will be getting very busy, and the use of the marina is necessary, as well.” She noted at the time that the residents’ privacy would be compromised as traffic increases in the area during the warmer months.

The goal for OLS is to find a location that still offers the same common space that the current one does, but in a more private location, and in a location easily accessible by foot or public transit, as residents must travel for necessities.

While some of those in the area expressed opposition to the sleeping cabins being located at the Harbour when the concept was first made public, many have since embraced the concept, with a number of Olympic Harbour neighbours having donated to the project since. That change of perspective for many in the community demonstrates another ‘success’ of the project, Barling expressed — another success her organization hopes to see continued, as well.

“We’re fighting for [the continuation of the project] because there’s still antagonism towards the homeless,” she said.

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