Petitioners: Integrated Care Hub not welcome at 661 Montreal St.

The site of the new Integrated Care Hub at 661 Montreal St. should be ready for occupancy by Nov. 1, 2020. Photo: Samantha Butler-Hassan

A petition of 186 signatures protesting the new location of the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) is being submitted to council today, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.

Valerie Gray, who organized the petition, said she attained that number of signatures by simply walking two blocks along Montreal St, in the vicinity of the buiding.

Residents as well as owners of adjacent businesses such as Da Costa Millwork and Quattrocchi’s Fruit Market, have put their names to the list of objections.

‘Not just NIMBYism’

The heading of the petition cites concerns over decreased property value, negative impacts on the “values and peace [of] the local homeowners, renters and business owners,” and the creation of an “unsafe environment due to the safe injection site.”

A few petitioner have also included comments on the form such as: “Zero tolerance for this,” “Too much in one place;” “Liars, thieves, abusers,” and “Get a job!”

However Gray said their petition is not simply a case of “Not in my backyard,” or NIMBYism.

“This again is a Band-Aid fix, its a temporary solution,” she said. “It’s giving them a place to sleep at night, a place to safely inject their drugs, but then they’re out on the street again until they can go back in the next night.”

The ICH does not allow people to reserve a sleeping area for more than one night at a time, operating on a drop-in, first-come first-served model. “There is no guarantee that they‘re going to be a place for them to lay their head at night,” Gray said. “They need this guarantee.”

Joe Quattrocchi, of Quattrochi’s Fruit Market directly across the street from 661 Montreal St, is one of the signatories to the petition. Photo: Samantha Butler-Hassan

Gray said she wants to see the City investing in building more permanent housing for Kingston’s homeless, rather than an ICH. The City is currently working with a backlog on the waitlist for affordable housing over 1600 names long. New developments are underway on Wright Cres. and Princess St, but still years from completion.

With a November 1 deadline to vacate Artillery Park approaching, Gray suggested City Councilors once again extend the ICH’s tenancy. “The thing is they extended Artillery Park once, just like they extended Belle Park. They could extend Artillery Park again while they find a suitable location.”

Meanwhile, other City residents have objected to their lack of access to the City-owned pool and gym at Artillery Park. The facility was closed to the public in when the ICH moved in, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as Ontario moved into Stage 3 of Provincial reopening, and other local recreational facilities resumed operations, Artillery Park is still closed to the public.

Gray suggested the City look at locations such as Cooke’s Arena, which they currently use for storage; a closed Beer Store location nearby, or even converting empty warehouses on Hickson Ave. into apartments.

“Every suggestion we bring to them, they say it can’t work,” she said. Gray is frustrated at the lack of cooperation with local residents about the development.

Building size & capacity concerns

Gray’s petition also raises concerns about size of the property at 661 Montreal St. The building is smaller than Artillery Park, which has reportedly filled up nightly almost immediately since it opened.

According to Sarah Withrow, Communications Officer for the City of Kingston, the new ICH at 661 Montreal St. is expected to have similar sleeping capacity to Artillery Park.

“The Integrated Care Hub (ICH), now based at Artillery Park Aquatic Centre, has approximately 20 sleep pods depending on clients’ needs (i.e. couples can use one pod) and 30 additional resting spaces,” she said.

“With the creation of the new centre at 661 Montreal St., the intention is to have a similar capacity although it’s too early to put an exact number on what will be available at this facility.”

ICH Director and Dr. Moore: ‘Integrated’ model works

Gray said she fears that the “integrated” model arbitrarily lumps people experiencing homelessness in with other people that may have more complex issues such as mental health problems and addiction.

A variety of community partners offer services out of the ICH including HIV / Aids Regional Service (HARS), Street Health, Kingston Community Health Centre (KCHC), Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington Public Health. Gray fears this exposes people who may struggling financially and vulnerable, to negative influences such as drugs, alcohol or addiction relapse.

However, City Council has heard delegations from the ICH manager Gilles Charette and Kingston’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore over the past three months, describing the effectiveness of the Integrated care model.

“Where the hub model really shines is how it brings together community partners on one site to bring services to the people we serve,” Charette told City Council on Tuesday, Sep. 1, 2020.

“Our ability to connect with supports is incredible. Client maintenance has improved dramatically because we can actually find the people that we’re trying to service,” he said. “In the past we would have had to discharge people who were not showing up for appointments.”

Kingston’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, also implored councillors to continue supporting the Integrated Care Hub during his delegation to Council on Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2020. “The model is working,” he said, calling the number of naloxone kits handed out and overdoses prevented during an ongoing overdose epidemic “significant.”

Still, Gray said she is not convinced. She said from her own research into Integrated Care in other Ontario municipalities, she feels, over the long term, it doesn’t work.

Councillors hearing petitioners out

Gray said City Councillors Jeff McLaren and Rob Hutchison came to her home on Monday to listen to her concerns. Councillor Simon Chapelle also called her this week.

“Chappelle was totally on our side and totally agreed with everything,” Gray said. Chappelle did vote against keeping the Integrated Care Hub at Artillery Park at Council’s meeting on Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2020, saying it was causing area residents concerns.

City Council will discuss the petition at their upcoming meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020.

Update: Councillor Hutchison presented the petition to City Council at their meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020.

Samantha Butler-Hassan, Local Journalism Initiative

Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community. This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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