KUT’s General Secretary to the City Council: House the Homeless instead of ‘supporting’ them

Originally posted Nov. 18, 2021 – Taken from comments to City Council

I’m here to speak to the Report: Winter Initiatives Supporting the Homeless Community (COU-21-279).

The report is appropriately named because it is indeed not meant to house the homeless but to ‘support’ them in being homeless. The fact that the cutest word in the English dictionary (according to the social-democrats and liberal do-gooders) “community” is thrown in makes no difference. In fact, it makes this tragedy all the more tragic and the genocide which is about to be levelled upon our fellow humans all the more scary.

Indeed, there is a homeless ‘community’ here in Kingston and indeed it has been created by the policies of this government and indeed it is being supported by this Council which uses every opportunity it has to normalize and entrench its existence.

Just in tonight’s session the staff is proposing $900 000 for supporting the homeless and at least $3.5 million for the developers (and that’s just in the reports that I identified and read as being likely to be containing money for the developers – there’s probably more)!

1.3 million designated for services for the homeless (only about 900 000 of which is to be used with near 400 000 remaining in ‘reserve’ as if there’s no need for this money to be spent) is being set up in this report as either all three of the warming centre, the 10 shacks and ICH or putting people in motels for the winter. Why? This is a blackmail of sorts – the purpose is to pit service providers against each other or to get them to give up on the idea of actually housing people, to accept, that is, homelessness as a fact of life and to make people like me who will tell you that you need to put people up in hotels and motels responsible for Chrystal’s shacks or the warming centre not happening or ICH having to close down. This is a false choice and you need to reject it. There is money for all these things. More importantly – there is money and power to provide real social, public, rent-geared-to income housing. It just needs to not continue to be given to the wealthiest of Kingston’s landlords and developers.

The report says that only ‘our livable solutions’ is interested in tiny homes? Could that be because all other housing providers are interested in actual housing which is not on the table? Why are shacks even under consideration? Why are we making deals with an unelected an unaccountable to anyone individual with a proven record of being a bad landlord and no significant experience or any qualifications whatsoever for working with vulnerable people? Since there is a clear commitment to providing absolutely no housing for the most vulnerable and to continuation of homelessness throughout the winter, why is the bylaw which calls for clearing of encampments remaining in place? Why is the bylaw which will certainly cause deaths and enormous suffering as it prevents people from setting up their own semi-permanent shacks and tents which can be warmed if left alone not being suspended or struck down?

Here is what needs to be done:

1) the genocidal encampment protocol needs to be repealed and people need to be, not only left alone to build their own shacks and encampments, but supported in doing so. It should not be poor tenants organized through at tenant union who are feeding and clothing and heating and housing the homeless nor should it be on harm-reduction workers to cook and house people. It should be the City that does that.

2) The report talks about housing people who don’t want to hang around the Hub because they are trying to stay away from drugs in the shacks. By dividing people into drug users and those who don’t want to use and reducing the needs of the former group to safe consumption services is cynical and perpetuates the narrative that people are defined by their addiction. People don’t only need a place to use drugs safely. They need services – indeed, they need safe and free supply of medicine, but they also need food, clothing, housing, entertainment, recreation, therapy etc. We are providing those services. We shouldn’t have to. The City should be providing these services. This is what wrap-around care means. It’s time to take it seriously.

3) Kingston’s officially 200 but in reality 400 plus homeless need to be housed in motels that need to be expropriated with some of the millions that are weekly going to obscenely wealthy developers and landlords and who are using them to create housing for the wealthy and to inflate rental and real estate prices. Needs of those whose lives are in danger, who are sick and dying and who are at threat of freezing to death need to be put before the needs of the landlords, developers and hotel owners. The staff have contradicted themselves by claiming in the last session that no motel rooms are available and now offering the strategy as an option. Motel rooms are certainly an option. It’s just a matter of who’s asking, how much and what ‘or else’ is. If a mayor is offering to pay good money and to ensure that services necessary to keep the places clean and decent I’m sure motel owners will be all over it. If they are still not, then I’m sure they can be convinced by the threat of expropriation which is again just a matter of how much. By the way, it would cost 600 000 to provide motel rooms for Kingston’s official 200 homeless 4 months of the winter. I could say that that’s the half of the money you have allocated for the homeless services but I’ll say instead that that’s one sixth of what you’re giving away just today to the developers of 700 Gardiners Road.

4) We keep hearing about how ‘it takes time to build real housing’ and how we need to act now to serve our ‘homeless community’ year after year. The problem is that you aren’t actually building real social public rent-geared-to-income housing and you have no plan to do so. Real social public rent-geared to income housing needs to be built to house thousands who are currently paying way more than they should for rent. The fact that you’ve put this off for years, indeed, decades, is no excuse for not doing it now. You need to begin at some point. Begin!

5) An immediate solution is right before your eyes in the mushrooming skyscrapers which you’ve bent over backwards to see built in record time over your term in office. Developers need to be forced to give up a percentage of their units to the state for the purpose of housing the homeless and precariously housed in social, public and rent-geared-to-income units right now. This strategy is called ‘inclusionary zoning’ and it is a policy that is available for you to use.

I’ve told you this last winter and the winter before and I’m going to tell you again: With your commitment to the perpetuation of homelessness through another brutally-freezing unforgiving winter and your insistence on terrorizing people with the genocidal encampment protocol you are responsible for deaths and suffering in our town. People will again die because of your genocidal policies.

I foolishly had hope that you would budge on your commitment to terror and murder of homeless given that this is your last winter in office before you’ll surely all be out, but I was yet again disappointed. It turns out your strategy is to milk the little things as much as you can and count on the corporate and landlord-owned press to do the spin and make you look good. It’s not a bed bet given your faith in things never changing in our little town. But as sure as you’ve created the housing and homelessness crisis with the pandemic of evictions and homelessness, you will have to answer to the homeless and tenants who will have no choice but to make you pay for what you’ve done. You have no idea about the extent of anger you will encounter if you dare go knocking door to door and asking for votes next year. You better stick to the downtown condos and wealthy suburban mansions if you go out at all.

Winter has started and it is way too late to be satisfied with building 10 shacks. There are 400 lives threatened with extinction – we need 400 rooms with heat and locks on them and it is not at all hard to provide them. Just do it! –

General Secretary, Katarokwi Union of Tenants

Municipal reports referenced here:

Report Number 21-262

Report Number 21-279

Report Number 21-281