Originally posted 2021.
Thanks in large part due to the ICH/CTS, Kingston was the only city in Ontario where the overdose death rate decreased in 2020, according to Mayor Bryan Paterson. Even beyond all of the vital shelter, food, harm reduction supplies, counselling, pandemic triage, support, and dignity that the ICH/CTS provides to Kingston community members every day, they have reversed over 500 overdoses in their 15 month existence, literally saving lives. As we have detailed previously, the ICH/CTS’s role as Kingston’s primary backstop against compounding social and health crises should be celebrated, and even held as a point of municipal pride. Instead, it’s under review with its funding on the line.
This successful initiative is discussed among City Council as anything but. The lives of Kingston’s most vulnerable community members are given equal, if not less, weight as the litter around the ICH/CTS, and immense human suffering is steamrolled into a pesky budget item. As Councillor Lisa Osanic said, “I don’t want to put any more money into the ICH, even to see if it’s working.” Only in view of the utter lack of understanding of mental health, addiction, and trauma across the City Council, does it become clear how they don’t already understand that the ICH/CTS is going above and beyond their operational mandate.
What is really up for review is the context in which the ICH/CTS staff are succeeding. The ICH/CTS exists in a building still under construction in parts, on a site with dangerously high levels of dozens of contaminants, in a community from which staff and those who use their services regularly receive both complaints and death threats. Several councillors admit that this project was rushed in a way that has made it more dangerous for the people currently served there. The logical leap they make here is that it must be shut due to its deterioration. The situation at the ICH/CTS isn’t deteriorating; the City’s ability to support its citizens is deteriorating, and the situation at the ICH/CTS reflects this continued failure. There must be no talk of shutting down the ICH. What is needed is relocation into a healthier environment, with a better and bigger facility, which isn’t owned by a private landlord who got the land for free.
Any review of the ICH/CTS’s efficacy must a) take the extent of its service provision into consideration, and b) make explicit how every single one of these services will be provided in the future. Without these conditions, the City is putting lives at risk, and must be held accountable. That they believe they still need proof that those on the frontline of several complex social catastrophes, unaddressed by this and every other form of government, are doing something worthwhile, is dispiriting to say the very least.
City Council acknowledges that the ICH/CTS is suffering not from issues of service effectiveness, but issues of ill-planning, lack of adequate construction, poor site choice, and allegations of neighbourhood nuisance. Does this sound familiar? They are assuring people that the ‘situation’ at the ICH/CTS, which they claim is so untenable as to merit review, will not take place at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour. This is despite the fact that they have already completely failed to include the community in the consultation process, and all there is to patch all the holes in the OLS plan, detailed in this article, is unbacked assurances and optimism.
Witness the scrutiny being applied to the ICH/CTS, as it places Kingston at the provincial forefront of harm reduction and saving lives. Contrast it with the laissez-faire attitude towards the ten waterfront shacks that cost more per night than luxury hotel rooms and won’t be ready until six weeks from now. And don’t forget all the additional homelessness that will be created this winter by a lack of movement on the housing crisis. Or the fact that, as City staff are open about, there is no alternative for the many vital services the ICH/CTS provides to hundreds of Kingstonians. Lakeside shacks are not the answer, and the ICH/CTS must be protected, supported, and given all of the necessary resources.
Written by Kyle Fillo, on behalf of the Katarokwi Union of Tenants