City building sits empty while Kingstonians suffer COVID in nearby trailers

Originally postd Nov. 18, 2021

This video is of the top floor of 610 Montreal Street, a building owned by the City of Kingston. It is less than a block from the Integrated Care Hub and Consumption & Treatment Services center (ICH/CTS), and has been empty since the ICH/CTS opened last summer.

[video archived]

There are currently Kingstonians suffering from both COVID-19 and drug addiction in unfurnished, uninsulated trailers and isolated tents on ICH/CTS property. A few hundred meters away, these six rooms lay completely empty, in an empty building for which Hydro, internet, and heating are already being paid.

The Katarokwi Union of Tenants has previously voiced our support for ICH/CTS staff, and the members of our community who depend on the ICH/CTS for health, safety, community, and happiness. We have also questioned the harrowing lack of proper government response, at every level, which has left staff and community members alike virtually abandoned during compounding social and public health catastrophes. Now, we must bring the City of Kingston to task over the ongoing vacancy of a building perfectly suited for COVID-19 isolation.

How does such a severe injustice like this happen? First and foremost, by the dehumanization of Kingston’s most vulnerable residents, to this point of such utter disregard by the powers that be. Imagine yourself as one of the people suffering and shivering through an endlessly cold night on the floor of a trailer. Imagine your body aching and throbbing from the effects of a virus that remains both loose in the Canadian population, and fundamentally unaddressed by our elected leaders. Imagine the agony, the fear, the despair. Now imagine learning about this warm, unoccupied, indoorspace, only a minute away. And if you can’t imagine yourself in this situation, consider for a moment why that is. Consider what it is about the people currently living through this that makes your empathy impossible.

Second, while the inadequacy of the ‘trailers response’ has been immediately exposed, the revelation of the existence of a perfect alternative raises even more questions, much more uncomfortable ones. Is the municipal government’s inability to uncover a solution literally staring them in the face simply a mistake? If so, it’s glaring enough for any Kingstonian to be skeptical of the hands their city is in. How many other superior alternatives like 610 Montreal remain unoccupied? And what if this oversight isn’t a mistake? What if it goes beyond a lack of imagination, a lack of attention to detail, a lack of planning, a lack of compassion for the community they’re tasked with serving? When power isn’t confronted by its failures, claiming incompetence, accident, or oversight will always be easier, and more politically expedient, than honesty and self-reflection about the cruel realities of their decisions, or lack thereof.

If you’re feeling outraged reading this, you’re on our side. The people suffering in those trailers deserve a public accounting for what they’ve been subjected to. Even more importantly, the ICH/CTS still needs your help. For those looking to support ICH/CTS staff and community members isolating with COVID, the Katarokwi Union of Tenants is asking for the following donations:

  • Warm clothing
  • Entertainment (books, magazines, DVDs, puzzles, games, etc.)
  • Volunteers for sorting and handling incoming donations

You can also financially donate to our GoFundMe. All donations go towards purchasing goods that will be physically taken to unhoused encampments around Kingston, not limited to the ICH/CTS. These goods include food, winter clothing, sanitary products, and other items specifically requested by our unhoused friends.

By Kyle Fillo, on behalf of the membership of the Katarokwi Union of Tenants.