Though the doors are open, work remains to be completed at the City’s new Integrated Care Hub (ICH) at 661 Montreal St. The facility moved from Artillery Park to its new location on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, and several interior and exterior projects are still on the go.
According to one Hub client, a woman waiting outside the building on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, clients do not currently have access to showers, on-site laundry or a kitchen. She asked that her name be withheld for privacy reasons.
“I’ve been giving myself sponge baths in the sink,” she said. “I hate feeling dirty.” She said there were no mirrors hanging in the bathrooms, so she did her morning makeup in one of the port-a-potties outside.
Because she can’t wash her clothes, she said she goes to the Salvation Army for new ones regularly. She also said she didn’t have enough storage space for her belongings, and that they were without the Wi-Fi access they had at Artillery Park.
Approaching 661 Montreal St. on Thursday morning, it was clear that the exterior of the building was still unfinished, with layers of exposed wood and metal beams visible from the street. Construction crew, trucks, heavy equipment, protective fencing and dumpsters were set up on the south side of the property.
Clients sat on plastic chairs, at picnic tables and on benches around the building. Others had moved into the wooded lot south of 661 Montreal St, where it was quieter, away from the construction noise. Still others could be seen walking off down the adjacent K&P trail.
The woman was sitting in the wooded area on some discarded wooden pallets, surrounded by bags of clothing and personal items. “I slept out here last night, because it was so nice out,” she said, noting that she received an infraction notice from City bylaw officers for illegal camping on Thursday morning.
It indicated that she would need to leave the area, identified as “Belle Park,” by 4 p.m. By then she said she hoped to be back inside the building. “They send us out every day at 10 until 2. Well it’s supposed to be 2, but really it’s more like 3.”
She said she was not sure why clients were sent outside for so long, but she believed it could be so that interior work could be completed.
“Originally they said we had to go out for an hour every day, so they could clean.” With the cold and windy weather earlier in the week, she said she and other clients have sat outside the ICH for hours at a time.
“One day I just wrapped all my blankets up around me, and lay down, and leaned my head by the door and waited,” she said. She noted that there is a fire pit in the back of the building that clients use when the winds are not strong. “They told me ‘Come sit by the fire!’ I said ‘No, I’m not moving.’ I was too cold to move.”
City, building owner and Hub staff ‘working hard to minimize disruption’
Gilles Charette, the Executive Director of HIV/Aids Regional Services and Manager at the Integrated Care Hub was quick to respond to the Kingstonist’s inquiries on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.
He confirmed that clients are outside daily while construction is completed. “We anticipate this to be very short term — ideally, end of this week,” he said. “A few unforeseen items had to be added to the contractor’s work list in the drop-in space, so we need to close the drop-in for the sake of safety.”
He said there will ultimately be two showers available. “One of them was just about finished yesterday and the other I was told would be ready today,” he said.
“There was no laundry facility available at Artillery Park and while we’ve requested that the contractor rough-in for a washer-dryer, we will have to fundraise or request donation for these appliances, so there is no timeframe on laundry,” he explained.
He expects Wi-Fi to be available by Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. “The building has been completely wired for internet, but we’ve had a challenge having the Internet Service Provider connect the service in time for opening,” he said.
The woman waiting outside the ICH described the facility as having no kitchen, but a microwave, and said that they have benefited from daily deliveries of donated food.
“There are two kitchenettes in place in order to reheat and serve food and beverage,” Charette said. “A larger kitchen is in the plans, but again, we will have to fundraise or solicit donations for this. Thanks to the generosity of our community partners — Loving Hands and Lionhearts — the meals arrive prepared, so at the moment, the kitchenettes work just fine for reheating and serving food.”
Charette said he feels most of the challenges they’ve encountered since opening were unforeseen, and likely would have been encountered regardless of when they moved into 661 Montreal Street.
“The Hub staff and City Staff, as well as the building owner, have been working hard to minimize the disruptions for the people we serve and we are confident that this space will really contribute to [their] well-being,” he said.
“I’ve never been homeless before”
Before coming to 661 Montreal St, the woman waiting in the woods outside the ICH said she was at the Artillery Park ICH. One positive observation she noted in the transition was a decrease in the number of overdoses. She said she believes it’s because they’re further from downtown, so people don’t have the same access to drugs.
She said she did not camp at Belle Park over the summer, as many of the other ICH clients had.
“I don’t know, I thought it would be embarrassing, sleeping in a tent in a parking lot with everybody.” Instead, she found a quiet site at an abandoned building to camp on her own, with friends checking in on her regularly. She was told about the ICH and decided to move down. It’s a temporary solution for her that she hopes she won’t rely on much longer.
“I’m hoping to move into the housing,” she said. The woman described herself as middle-aged, with three children aged 19, seven and two. She said that she has been separated from her children in her homelessness, but needs housing to begin the process of reconnecting with them.
“I have never been homeless before in my life but this past year, everything just went wrong,” she said.