Seventeen days after opening their doors, the managers of Kingston’s new Integrated Care Hub (ICH) at 661 Montreal St. held a press conference to provide an update on their operation.
“We’ve served over 100 unique individuals, we’ve given out over 2,500 meals and our rest zone has been at capacity every single night,” said Ashley O’Brien of HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS) on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.
“Our community partners … are also meeting biweekly to identify gaps and barriers so that we can continuously do better, so that the people that we serve — the most marginalized groups in the community — are taken care of at this time,” she said.
Building still under construction
The property is still a work site, with a partially unfinished exterior, construction equipment, scaffolding and dumpsters surrounding the building. On Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, the Kingstonist reported that clients accessing the facility were without working showers, bathroom mirrors or a kitchen, and were being sent outside for hours at a time during the day, while work was done on the building. When asked if the move from Artillery Park to 661 Montreal St. had been premature at that time, Executive Director Gilles Charette suggested that many of these challenges had been unforeseen.
When posed the same question, Amanda Rogers, Manager of Harm Reduction Services, did not directly respond. Instead she suggested that the ICH’s community of clients were so adaptable that an unfinished building was insignificant.
“This isn’t new for the work of harm reduction,” Rogers said. “What really keeps us grounded in this is the resilience of the people we serve….If that means having fires outside and bringing hot chocolate outside then that’s what we’re going to do. We have learned from the people that we serve [about] being resilient in situations when the world is not quite ready for us. We got this anyways. We’ve got your back.”
She commended the ongoing efforts of City staff and BPE Development to complete the building.
“[They] are working tireless to build the beautiful home that people in our community have needed,” Rogers said.
‘My people are cared for’
The Integrated Care Hub provides a variety of health and social services to precariously housed or unhoused individuals in Kingston. This includes meals, showers, an overnight drop-in centre, and Consumption Treatment Services (CTS) — or “safe injection site” — operated by Kingston Community Health Centres.
“The ICH was created in response to three intersections of crises in our community,” O’Brien said. “The global health pandemic of COVID-19, where we have seen agencies unable to provide their health and social services at regular capacity; the very complex housing crisis… and a drug-poisoning crisis where we are losing people at an astronomical rate.”
Justine McIsaac, CTS Coordinator, said she believes the public holds a misconception that people that use drugs, her clients, don’t value their lives.
“They truly truly do. These people are resilient. They have value, purpose and meaning in this community and they deserve to be celebrated for making healthy choices in regards to their well-being,” she said.
“[Drug use] is a coping technique that is developed to deal with an immense amount of pain, trauma and suffering that these individuals have acquired in their life,” she said. “They deserve more than what they’ve been given.”
She said the Montreal Street location is appropriate for the CTS as it is already accessible to and frequented by people in need.
“There’s a reason we have had two sharps bins on the K&P trail for several years now,” she said, referring to the stretch of wooded trail that runs adjacent to the new ICH building. “This is about safety for everybody.”
“People that use substances don’t want their substance use to impact other people. By using this space, that ensures that nobody comes across them unfortunately suffering from an overdose in a public washroom, finding paraphernalia around the community or using in an unsafe environment.”
Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health has put out multiple warnings in recent months about the circulation of unsafe batches of street drugs in the community, and the increased risk of overdose. McIsaac said despite three moves since the start of the pandemic, CTS has not missed a day of operation, and have already reversed multiple overdoses at the Montreal Street site.
“It’s been a beautiful partnership,” McIsaac said. “Prior to us partnering, when I closed my door at night, I didn’t know where my people were going to go. Were they going to be safe? Were they going to be cared for the way I feel they deserved to be cared for? By HARS and the City stepping up and allowing us to have this space, I know when I close my doors at the Safe Injection Site every single night, my people are cared for.”
No confirmed COVID-19 cases on premises
The ICH Managers confirmed that they have, to date, had no persons that have tested positive for COVID-19 on the premises.
On Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, Kingston’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore announced 14 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region, including one case of a person that was precariously housed and living in their car.
“We have a very close relationship with Public Health,” Rogers said. “We have a very diligent screening process… As of yet, we have had no positive cases at the hub.”