After several delegations shared their thoughts and concerns, and after much serious debate by City Council, it was narrowly decided Wednesday night, Nov. 16, 2021, that a pilot project proposed for 10 sleeping cabins to be placed at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour this winter should go ahead. The project, which is the brainchild of Our Livable Solutions, a consulting group lead by a steering committee of people who are or have recently experienced homelessness, will see 10 of the most vulnerable members of the local community provided with a micro home for the winter.
As previously reported, these 10 “sleeping cabins” would house individuals who have mobility issues, and services would be brought to them at this central location. According to housing advocate and Our Livable Solutions Founder, Chrystal Wilson, these are the Kingstonians most likely to die from freezing this winter if nothing is done to house them.
Several delegations spoke to the idea of the pilot project, including residents of Portsmouth Village, both for and against the proposal.
Carolynn Barnett, a resident of Portsmouth Village for 26 years, read a list of 20+ questions which she said she was presenting “on behalf of the villagers,” and requested “formal written responses as well as a community meeting as soon as possible.” Her wide list of concerns ranged from the safety and security of the site (both for the vulnerable individuals housed there and the surrounding village and boats), to drug use at the site, oversight in the kitchen, and a possible curfew.
Kingston resident, David More, said he supported “trialling this progressive project, but I will be blunt; It seems an outlandish idea to plop it down in the middle of a residential public park with a boat marina and gas station.”
More referenced the example of Kitchener’s “A Better Tent City,” which has been used as an example at Council before to outline the merits of the program. He cited a media report that suggested there had been an increase in thefts and strewn about needles in the area saying, “Parsing out some Pollyanna media coverage suggests to me that the Portsmouth location is not worth a trial.”
He also reiterated Barnett’s earlier concern about possible damage to the boats being stored overwinter at the Harbour and for the impact on programming currently run out of the Harbour, including the Candian Olympic Regatta at Kingston (CORK), and the Brigantine sailing program.
Much of the frustration expressed by delegates who were opposed to the proposed project stemmed from a lack of public consultation, most said they had only just found out about the project when the Mayor talked about the upcoming meeting agenda in a television interview on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.
In defence of this, Mayor Bryan Paterson pointed out that the meeting agenda had been published publicly on the City website previous to the interview, so the proposal was no secret. While Mayor Paterson may believe that to be the case, for the record, the agenda for the Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 Council meeting (which extended through Wednesday evening, as well) was not published publicly until after 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021.
Chrystal Wilson, housing advocate and a founder of Our Livable Solutions, was visibly frustrated when she spoke on behalf of the organization, “It’s a hard act to follow some of those comments.”
Wilson explained, “It’s frustrating to me to hear some of the rumours that have flown because the communication has been so challenging.” The rather sudden announcement of the proposed site put her and OLS in an impossible situation, she expressed, “It’s a hard cart before the horse situation. If we went and asked [the villagers what they thought] first and we didn’t have permission from Council, then we’re getting people engaged in something that might not happen. So we know that Council has to decide first before a lot of the engagement can happen. It’s the chicken or the egg.”
However, Wilson remarked, OLS was completely prepared to engage with the community and invited community involvement, if Council gave the go-ahead for the project on the proposed site.
“We’re prepared to engage more, prepared to educate more, we’re working with people who are trauma-responsive educators and [we will be] opening up our trauma-responsive courses to the community, to the neighbours of Portsmouth Harbour, so that they can learn with us the science behind trauma care, ” she explained. “One of our goals is to become the first trauma-responsive organization in Kingston.”
She further pointed out that “Lots of people are trying. We’ve engaged with all of the experts to try to make sure that we can help people best, and we want the neighbours to walk with us. We responded as soon as we had an invitation to meet to work with neighbours who were there [at a weekend meeting]. We answered their questions. We did our best and we’ve opened communications as much as we can,” referring to an impromptu meeting she’d been invited to by neighbours of the Harbour on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021.
Another delegation by the family of Dr. Eva Purkey and Andrew McCann, who reside across the street from the Harbour, described this meeting.
McCann said that, when he found out about the project being placed at the Harbour, he had gone door-to-door in a two-block radius inviting neighbours to meet on Sunday, for what he called a “somewhat spontaneous form of democracy.”
At the meeting, he said, “There were 30 very concerned citizens there and we heard a lot of concerns, which you’ll probably hear in the letters that have been submitted and from other delegations tonight. We heard serious issues around the boats, St. Lawrence II program, [and] walking at night nearby.”
It was his opinion that, despite these concerns, once they were able to ask questions of Wilson and other OLS members, “most people there came around to the idea. And the greater concern was that, on the edge of winter, we actually need to act now and move ahead and not defer this and make a decision tonight to put these cabins in there, so that at least the disabled people who I know are being targeted to live there will have a place to stay warm.”
“There is no perfect solution here, there is no ideal location,” he said, encouraging the City to “do the right thing. Sometimes the right thing is not popular.”
The debate by Council on Wednesday evening was extensive and the second night of the meeting, which began the night before. It was decided by a vote of seven to five in favour of going forward with the Portsmouth Harbour location. Council approved an additional investment of up to $257,000 for two sleeping cabins, capital implementation costs, and operating costs of the sleeping cabin initiatives for a five-month pilot from December 2021 to April 30, 2022, to be funded from the Social Services Relief Fund Phase 3.
You can view the meetings by visiting the City Council Meetings page of the City website.