Kingston Youth Shelter sets sights on new permanent location

The Kingston Youth Shelter has purchased the property at 365 Nelson Street, the former site of 5678 Dance Studio, as the location of its new permanent shelter. Photo via the City of Kingston.

Officials with the Kingston Youth Shelter (KYS) have unveiled plans for a new permanent location at 365 Nelson Street, which will allow the organization to provide up to 24 beds for youth aged 16 to 24 who are experiencing homelessness or other housing insecurities. Anne Brown, Executive Director for KYS, said the move resulted from ongoing constraints at their current location, which have been exacerbated by COVID-19 restrictions.

“Our location at Brock Street, which has been our home for the last 23 years, is undersized, so with current guidelines by public health, we can only have six beds there.” Throughout the pandemic, KYS faced a number of challenges, as the organization was forced to relocate several times. In March of 2020, KYS moved from its Brock Street location to a building on Lower Union Street. Then, in May 2021, the organization moved to the former Fairfield Manor site, located in the city’s west end, before once again moving back to the original site on Brock Street.

Throughout much of 2022 KYS has been operating out of the site on Brock Street, as well as an additional shelter on the campus of Queen’s University. The new location on Nelson Street will allow officials with KYS to consolidate their services into one all-encompassing building.

“We’ve been operating out of two spaces, one space for the youth to sleep and then our day services available [at] the Brock Street location, and that’s where our staff work out of [too]. So that’s not very convenient for staff, [and] it’s not very convenient for the youth,” said Brown.

The new location also addresses some of the accessibility concerns which have become an issue at the current shelter site. “The building on Brock Street is a century home, so its three storeys and does not lend itself at all to being accessible for any use,” noted Brown. “Anybody facing any physical barriers would not be able to access the shelter system if needed.”

Youth Shelter staff began looking for a new location last year and settled on the former 5678 Dance Studio site on Nelson Street back in December, Brown shared.

“We just knew as soon as we walked in that that was the right spot for us. It just felt like home,” she remarked. “It has wide open spaces, so several very large rooms that used to be dance studios, it’s already equipped with some accessible facilities, such as washrooms and accessible entrances.”

“It provides some dignity to the youth that they [can] have their own private sleeping space as opposed to sleeping in a dormitory-style shelter setting, which is kind of the traditional method of sleeping in a shelter setting,” Brown said, noting that “individual sleeping pods” will allow officials to maintain social distancing and other infection prevention measures.

“It allows for the opportunity for the [space] to provide emergency shelter that meets the current [standards for] preventing the spread of infection.”

While KYS is happy with its acquisition of the site and officials hope to begin construction shortly, the organization has had to file a zoning amendment request with the City of Kingston before work can commence. The location is currently designated as an A5 zone within the City’s Zoning By-Law, which allows one or two-family dwellings. KYS is requesting to apply a site-specific designation to the property, which would allow them to convert the space into a youth shelter.

“The zoning application has gone through several steps with some staff review. And we’ve engaged the services of a professional planner to help us through that process,” Brown said.

Officials began working on the application process last year before KYS had actually secured the Nelson Street location. Brown described the process as “quite onerous.”

“There’s a lot of reports and studies that we’ve needed to prepare in order to get to this stage,” she said, adding that the response from the community has been “positive.”

“We haven’t had any direct feedback from the community in a negative manner… There is a community association for the area, and my communications with their chairperson have been positive, they’ve been supportive,” Brown expressed.

“We’ve been open and transparent about our use of the building. We really intend to be a good neighbour and hope to keep the building looking better than it is now. On the outside, we have planned some green space… we just [want] to fit in as well as we can [within] the neighbourhood.”

The application will be presented as part of a public meeting of the City’s Planning Committee on September 1, 2022. Once approvals are granted, KYS will begin the process of preparing the new location, which includes work on the kitchen and bathrooms.

“Currently, there are no showers in the building. So, we need to equip it with some showers: Both an accessible shower… and then we’re planning for gender-neutral washrooms to maximize the space. And then we need to have a full kitchen installed,” the Kingston Youth Shelter Executive Director laid out.

If all goes according to plan, Brown noted the organization hopes to have the new site ready sometime this November. “It really is contingent on the outcome of the September 1 meeting and, once we have approval for our zoning amendment, we can move forward with getting some approvals for building permits.”

As part of their relocation efforts, KYS launched a fundraising campaign earlier this year, in the hopes of raising $1.5 million to purchase the building and complete all necessary construction. To date, officials have raised $1,150,000, which allowed them to purchase the Nelson Street Property. However, staff will once again ramp up fundraising efforts this fall, as they seek donations from the public as well as grants and other funding sources.

“We do have a number of other grant applications to make coming up, grants that weren’t available until [this] fall. So, we still have some opportunities that way, as well as with public support,” noted Brown.

Those interested in making a donation can do so through the Youth Shelter’s page on the Canada Helps website.

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