At their regular meeting on Tuesday, June 1, 2021, Kingston City Council unanimously approved the establishment of an Indigenous housing service centre at 113 Lower Union Street.
The centre, which will house up to 19 individuals by late 2021 and provide the community with much-needed cultural support, will be operated by Tipi Moza at a leasing agreement of $1 per year over the next five years. The City will provide up to $150,000 in operational funding to Tipi Moza over the next two years.
The agreement will additionally allow the City 20 hours per year of consultation with Tipi Moza for two years, to support a hands-on approach to traditions, ceremonies and teachings so that staff may be influenced by an Indigenous perspective when making future decisions.
Robert Rittwage, Communications Director for Tipi Moza, presented to Council ahead of the vote to discuss local need and Tipi Moza’s work.
“25 per cent of the individuals who are homeless in the Kingston area right now identify as Indigenous,” said Rittwage. “The data suggests that people are out there, and the need is high. It’s [disproportionate] to the 8 per cent of Indigenous people that we have in the Katarokwi area.”
Rittwage briefly explained how historical events, including Canada’s residential school system, have impacted seven generations of Indigenous people.
“Today, we identify such societal issues as cultural disconnect, fragmented families, harsh experiences of poverty and homelessness to name a few only,” said Rittwage. “This is the outcome experienced by many individuals in our Indigenous community.”
“Throughout my lifetime I have seen many individuals who have experienced such hardship and struggle,” Rittwage continued. “They created change for themselves and their families because they were provided an opportunity just like this. Their descendants embraced that resilience and those descendants were given the opportunity to break cycles of intergenerational trauma, as we spoke about today. So they did. We’re not only affecting 19 individuals throughout the year, in fact, we are influencing the next seven generations of Indigenous families in our community.”
Rittwage maintained that everyone has a responsibility to reconcile the atrocities of the past: “providing a home, a sense of security and an Indigenous way of knowing and being will bring back that sense of identity to our community members.”
All 12 Councillors voted in favour of the Indigenous Supportive Housing partnership with Tipi Moza, with several expressing their enthusiastic support.
The centre will be centrally located in downtown Kingston, as Rittwage said: “That’s where the action happens.”
Rittwage explained to Council, “That’s where the highest need is, that is where the individuals congregate because the services are within walking distance. In terms of supports within the local community, there are very few, unfortunately. This addition will create that opportunity, and it’s in the perfect spot.”
Donald Mitchell, Vice Chair of the Board of the Sydenham District Association, offered strong support on behalf of his district for the new neighbours at 113 Lower Union Street.
“I believe our role is to be present, to show up, and it matters,” said Mitchell. “This beautiful location has operated as supportive housing in our community for many years and we’re glad to see it continue to provide that function under this new initiative.”
The Board of the Sydenham District Association also expressed hope that the City will focus on engaging Kingston’s large population of Indigenous youth.
Councillor Stroud, who formerly lived in the heritage home at 115 Lower Union Street, inquired about whether the Sydenham District had any concerns surrounding the heritage aspect of the neighbourhood.
Mitchell maintained that the district has very positive thoughts about the supportive housing initiative as well as a vested interest to make the City’s heritage spaces more viable, and more diverse in the future.
Kingston’s new Indigenous supportive housing program comes at a politically charged moment in Canada.
At the top of the Council meeting, Mayor Paterson gave a statement on the discovery of the bodies of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.
“As we mark the beginning of National Indigenous Peoples month here in Kingston, we stand with all those who have suffered from the terrible legacy of residential schools, with families and community members alike,” said Paterson.
“I know I speak for all of Council when I say that we remain committed to a path of meaningful reconciliation, with both substantive actions and full and open discussion and learning from our history,” he continued. “There remains much work to be done but we are committed to that work. Our hearts go out to all who have been impacted by this terrible discovery in Kamloops and by the broader legacy of residential schools.”