The sleeping cabin community at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour has been granted an extension until May 17, but if a new suitable location isn’t found by then they risk being locked away in storage.
Kingston City Council approved an extension on Tuesday after hearing words of support from members of the surrounding community, donors, residents within the cabins, and other members of Kingston’s homeless population.
The idea was initially met with long lists of concerns by both residents and city councillors, but at this point, some of the pilot project’s staunchest critics have come around.
On Tuesday several city councillors admitted they’d been more or less swayed by the project’s successes.
“I wasn’t supportive of it being there I can say that out loud,” said Councillor Oosterhoff.
“I’ve learned a lot from this… you’ve shown good things can happen with opposition.”
But now, without arrangements being made before the council meeting on May 17, the ten residents currently occupying the cabins could be on the lookout for new accommodations or back on the streets.
“Unless we have, obviously, a different direction from council we would be looking at removing the cabins,” CAO Lanie Hurdle told councillors.
“As per my email earlier today to some members of council, there may not be an option that is ready as of May 17.”
The cabins have been able to get ten people at a time out of the cold for much of the winter, 13 different residents at different points through the season, but now risk sitting unused for at least the in-season months at the Harbour as it gears up to welcome CORK events.
While approving an extension, council discussed potential storage options for the cabins if an appropriate space is not found as of May 17, with the community needing to move from its current location the following day.
Chrytsal Wilson, Executive Director of Our Livable Solutions and a driving force behind this project, said that’s a disappointing direction for the conversation to go which will see the loss of much needed beds over the warmer months.
“Homelessness- it’s not seasonal, why we treat it as a seasonal challenge is absolutely beyond me,” Wilson said.
“Is it fair to the people that are struggling to survive to throw them back on the street?”
The lack of permanent space for these cabins has been the chief criticism of this project that continues to be its primary issue now as the end of the pilot project creeps closer.
Critics say the money spent on this project, which based on a report presented to City Council is running well under budget thanks largely to community donations, would have been better served on other, wider spread efforts to tackle homelessness.
In November, the Katarokwi Union of Tenants pushed back against the project saying the city should instead direct funding to the proven services of the Integrated Care Hub, at that time still in danger of being closed this year due to lack of funding and faced with a third-party, political review.
Wilson said she thinks the cabin project has shown to help at least some people, and that it should not preclude other endeavors.
“We need a number of different types of solutions,” Wilson said.
“We’re not at all saying we’re the be all end all, I don’t believe that, we’re just saying we’re ‘one of’ and people seem to be comfortable with us.”
Wilson adds although the cabin community is projected to use $257,000 in municipal funding by the end of April, a significant portion, that which went to cabin construction, will not be a yearly expense.
“People seem to be combining the capital costs with the operational costs,” Wilson said.
“The reality is this program is really cheap, this is an inexpensive program to run when you look at the operational costs.”
At Tuesday’s council meeting however, Councillor Peter Stroud said for a project that only opened up ten beds, however successful, that it was extremely expensive.
He said based on the price, the project needs to be figured out in a more permanent way, and a way that can help more people.
“I think up until now we’re treating it like an emergency- people have been living on the streets since before I was born, since before our grandparents were born, right? It’s not a new problem,” Stroud said.
“It was more expensive than any other program that we do per person… it’s a lot of manpower and it’s a lot of money to help only ten people, we need to help more people.”
The community runs with a ratio of 1:10 staff to residents, and Wilson says residents being able to stabilize, pitch in and set expectations with one another has helped bring costs down.
She says now that the cabins are paid for, pivoting to an idea like housing these residents in hotel or motel rooms will bring costs up significantly.
But with under one month left to the now extended deadline, the cabin community finds itself back at square one of finding a suitable home.
A handful of residents who live in the community told council that they hope to see a new location found with haste, as they work to continue to stabilize themselves.
Jim Hewitt, one of the current ten residents, told council that the cabin and community which it exists in is helping him to put his life back together.
“I could have been one of the statistics that wouldn’t have been a pleasant one,” Hewitt told council.
“This is giving me a chance to restart because when you’re on the street, you don’t have any time, being homeless is like a full time job.”
City staff have been looking for a location that fulfills the amenities which Our Livable Solutions has identified as necessities including washroom and showers, a kitchen and meeting space to provide services.
Lake Ontario Park was specifically noted as an option, though CAO Hurdle said moving to that location could potentially hurt the community element that exists in the current space.
City staff will consider locations and report with options for the cabins by the May 17 council meeting.