The Ontario government announced the payment of its third installment of COVID-19 Social Service Relief Funding on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.
Kingston has received approximately $4.6 million through this program since April 2020, part of a $510-million relief package distributed to municipalities and Indigenous community partners province-wide.
Ruth Noordegraaf, Director of Housing and Social Services at the City of Kingston, said the funding has been incredibly helpful.
“It has allowed us to really think outside the box about how to support the community’s basic needs,” she said.
The Ontario government stipulated that municipalities and Indigenous community partners can use the funding at their discretion to deliver critical services, protect homeless shelter staff and residents, renovate and purchase facilities to create longer-term housing, create rent banks and prepare for potential future outbreaks or emergencies.
Noordegraaf said the initial $1.4 million, paid to the City of Kingston in April, was used to create self-isolation units within shelters, purchase port-a-potties for Kingston’s unhoused as many public washrooms closed, and help shelters transition into their pandemic operations.
The second $2.2 million, paid in August, was split equally between supporting operations at the Integrated Care Hub and the City’s purchase of Fairfield Manor West for use as supportive housing. A portion of reserved funds also went towards helping Lionhearts move their community meal program into Stages Night Club in September.
“This final amount, just under $1 million, we have not yet determined what it will be used for,” Noordegraaf said. “We will continue to use it in the spirit of responding to the pandemic but we have many short-term goals we want to look at. It can be used for self-isolation supports or for outbreak response, for example.”
She said Housing and Social Services will need to create an investment plan for approval before the money is spent, but that short-term pandemic expenses could quickly consume it.
“It sounds like a lot of money,” she said, but noted that the costs add up quickly. “Staffing a facility 24/7, the purchases we’ve made, and even cleaning. Something you might not think about but we have to make sure all the facilities are fully continuously sanitized. Cleaning has been a massive expense.”
Noordegraaf acknowledged that the pandemic has shone a light on systemic gaps and shortfalls for Kingston’s vulnerable, specifically housing.
“We’re in the midst of reviewing the homelessness system. We know we have a big need for all sorts of housing and we know that there are multiple crises happening at the same time,” she said.
“Drug poisoning is really adding to the complexity of supporting people that are both homeless and facing substance abuse challenges. We need to continue to have a conversation about the more longterm system changes.”
“It’s a challenge supporting that continuum of housing — short-term, emergency housing solutions and longterm housing,” she added.
For now, Noodegraf said the funding has been a welcome support, spent on meaningful initiatives. “It has been incredibly powerful,” she said.