An open letter to the residents of the city of kingston

Originally posted Sept. 28, 2021

Homelessness is closer to you than you think, take a moment to understand what your neighbours are experiencing.

I’ve known Charles for many years – he dated a friend of mine many years ago, then, when I was a cabbie, I’d drive him to work sometimes. He was a hard-working man, a regular guy, a fun guy to talk to, like any of us. I was surprised to find him camping out in the woods when I learned of the homeless encampment behind “The Country Club Towers” on Greenview Drive.

As a part of the Katarokwi (Kingston) Union of Tenants (KUT) and Kingston Peace Council’s (KPC) joint encampment support group we’ve been helping him and his friends survive the winter by refilling their propane tanks which is their main source of heat, we’ve also hooked them up to food and clothes, things we could get with the money we’ve raised through a go-fund me account. It hasn’t always been easy to stay in touch with them as they’re using an old phone that doesn’t hold charge well but we’ve managed. Being ‘off the path’ as they are, many of the agencies and charities that are tasked with helping the homeless are unable to reach them. We’ve filled the gap. As you can see from the interview, it was ‘working’ – we’ve managed to help Charles and his friends take care of themselves and survive in the woods so far this winter. With a little help from their friends they’re fine. If only they were left alone.

But they are not being left alone.

Having created the conditions for the manufacture and perpetuation of homelessness, The City of Kingston did not stop there, but is instead using its laws and regulations to terrorize the homeless and to chase them around town from place to place, tearing down their encampments and forcing them deeper into hiding and further away from the help that they desperately need. The nearby property owners are phoning in with complaints about “sketchy people”, “being loud” or “starting fires” – and within seconds the machinery of the capitalist state is mobilized to “protect the peace.” The insanely well-funded Kingston Police Force has been ‘visiting’ the encampment and threatening the people while the underfunded department of by-law enforcement is using it’s thin resources to “enforce bylaws” (read: evict and tear down housing) on the backs of the homeless while the tenants living in sub-standard housing with bedbugs, cockroaches and rats are told that they have to wait for the lengthy rental tribunal and appeals processes to play themselves out.

I’m worried about Charles and his friends hiding so well that we won’t be able to find them and help them anymore. I’m literally worried about them freezing to death. Charles is ‘keeping it together’ and he is coherent and energetic. Not everyone on the street is. People are helping each other but many are losing the battle against the City’s genocidal policies and are resorting to drugs to kill the pain and are dying from diseases associated with lack of food, heat and safety. They are giving up and it is becoming harder to reach them and help them. By-law officers, police officers, fire-department officers are all “just doing their jobs” and “following rules” and the politicians are passing the buck and claiming that they have no jurisdiction or money, while the condo-developments are being approved and constructed on top of the land that was once low-income housing throughout the pandemic at a break-neck speed and sitting empty because their owners have the right to keep them empty for as long as they like (until students are back in town who knows when). While the little money that is designated for affordable housing is being channelled into the pockets of those same private developers to build housing that the City is “not allowed” to move the homeless in (according to City staff) and that no-one on social assistance, Ontario Disability Support Program or on the social housing registry (which most have given up on even signing up for as it isn’t moving) can afford.

Katarokwi Union of Tenants (KUT) and Kingston Peace Council (KPC) have long ago given up on trying to reason with politicians or to convince them to try and help. We’ve ensured that they are aware of the situation and what their role in creating it and perpetuating has been and continues to be. We have decided to do it ourselves and have set out to help our homeless friends survive this brutal winter. We accept and encourage everyone to help with monetary and in-kind donations and to join us on the ground. We have reached out to our allies in the labour movement and managed to convince them to endorse our call for legalization of homeless encampments, a ban on evictions, rent-freeze and rent-rollbacks, construction of actually affordable (geared-to-income at 20%) housing. We were glad to participate in Kingston and District Labour Council’s “Housing for All” Rally in front of the City Hall and are eagerly awaiting their further active participation in our campaigns. We need a strong, conscious labour movement to bring about a society organized according to ability and need.

In the meanwhile, please get involved with KUT and KPC efforts to help our people survive and fight the brutal capitalist regime that is killing with poverty. Help us clean up the decrepit and bug-infested low income housing, help us keep and revive the existing social housing and build more, help us keep the homeless safe from the City workers and help us get more and better services (shelters are full every night and warming centres’ hours are restrictive – we need more shelter spaces and more warming centres) for them.

Yours truly,

Ivan Stoiljkovic

Member of Katarokwi (Kingston) Union of Tenants

*After interviewing in this video, Charles was notified from his caseworker that his housing benefit would be cut from his monthly social benefit cheque.

Link to Youtube Video