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Friday, July 19, 2024
HomeLocal NewsKingston's Welcoming Streets program extended to year's end

Kingston’s Welcoming Streets program extended to year’s end

Kingston City Council has voted to extend “Welcoming Streets,” a program aimed at assisting street-involved people and business owners in the downtown core.

After hearing a delegation by Welcoming Streets Steward Josh Morgan at their regular meeting on Tuesday, June 5, 2024, Council noted and received a report updating them on the program from Commissioner of Community Services Jennifer Campbell and Manager of Housing & Homelessness Amy Gibson. With no further questions or discussion, Council voted to extend the Welcoming Street pilot beyond its original targeted end date of June 30, 2024, to December 31, 2024, at a cost of approximately $125,000.

The staff report recommended that the mayor and clerk enter into amended agreements with Addiction & Mental Health Services – Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (AMHS-KFLA) and the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area (BIA) to continue the downtown-focused pilot street outreach program through December 31, 2024, with a monthly funding allocation of up to $10,417 per agency for the duration of the extension. They suggested funding this from the Homelessness Prevention Program and the approved 2024 Housing and Social Services operating budget, according to the report.

Council originally approved funding to implement the Welcoming Streets pilot at the May 16, 2023 meeting. The pilot aimed to support vulnerable individuals by placing dedicated street outreach workers in the downtown core. The City, AMHS-KFLA, and the BIA entered into service agreements to offer the Welcoming Streets pilot between July 1, 2023, and June 30, 2024.

The report states that since then, under the terms of these agreements, the BIA and AMHS-KFLA have been collaborating on the Welcoming Streets program to engage respectfully with individuals who may be experiencing homelessness and/or addiction or mental health difficulties and assist them in accessing needed resources and support. The program also helps property and business owners, as well as their staff and customers, to cultivate a safe, welcoming, and supportive community that considers the complex needs of all those involved.

In August 2023, the BIA and City officials attended a meeting to discuss increased crime and vandalism in the downtown core, according to the report from City staff. The purpose of the meeting was to learn how services work in Kingston and allow business owners to make suggestions on how to sustain the vibrancy of Kingston’s downtown retailers and services and how to ensure residents and tourists feel comfortable and excited about frequenting the area.

The report discusses how representatives known as Welcoming Streets Stewards have been providing services in the City’s downtown area Monday through Saturday during typical business hours. The program’s vision is to foster a compassionate, inclusive, and supportive environment for everyone in the downtown Kingston community. The stewards are trained with a trauma-informed lens and are experienced in supporting people with complex needs.

The people with whom the stewards come in contact may be experiencing poverty, homelessness, addictions, or mental and physical health challenges. The stewards focus on building relationships, providing access to service opportunities, and giving referrals and/or direction to rest areas where persons can access meals and/or shelter.

The report notes that the service area defined for the Welcoming Streets pilot was identified as a priority to support vulnerable populations and downtown businesses. The program operates alongside and in addition to the Street Outreach program delivered by Home Base Housing, which attends to all areas of Kingston seven days a week. The stewards have worked closely with downtown businesses to provide details about the program and share knowledge about mental health, substance abuse, and/or de-escalation techniques.

According to the report, the pilot program has been operating for 11 months. The annual budget for the Welcoming Streets pilot project is $250,000, with each service agency receiving $125,000 in funding. Of this total funding package, $150,000 was allocated from the Homelessness Prevention Program, and $100,000 from the 2023 municipal operating budget.

In his delegation, Welcoming Streets Steward Josh Morgan illustrated how the program has facilitated significant positive changes in individuals’ lives through comprehensive support and connections to essential services. He gave several specific examples of how individuals had overcome significant challenges through encounters with the program.

For one client, connecting with Morgan as the Welcoming Streets Steward led to a further connection with the AMHS-KFLA street outreach nurse for wound care. Next, he said, “the individual secured transitional housing through local community partners.” Morgan noted that this was just one example “showcasing the program’s effectiveness, addressing immediate health needs, and facilitating stable housing solutions. “

After giving more examples, Morgan concluded the delegation, saying, “The success of Welcoming Streets in downtown Kingston is in the meaningful connections and relationships with individuals facing mental health and addiction issues, and in providing education and solutions for businesses and their employees when they have a situation that they need assistance with. [Aside from this program,] the only option is to call the police.”

In their report, City staff asked that the Council direct staff to return to Council by the end of 2024 with an update on all Street Outreach Services and associated recommendations for funding for these services moving forward.

According to the report, the BIA has received positive feedback and appreciation for the program. The stewards have offered information sessions and naloxone training for BIA members at large, as well as for singular businesses that would like their staff informed and trained in valuable harm reduction methods.

The stewards have also worked closely with the City’s bylaw enforcement team, Home Base Housing and AMHS Street Outreach staff to divert crisis or conflict calls from emergency services and refer individuals to specific services such as Detox, Street Health, or Day Services. From February to March 2024, program data reported that 16 calls were diverted from enforcement services.

The report notes that service agreements with the BIA and AMHS-KFLA require the organization to track demographics, connections made, services or referrals provided, and outcomes, where possible, to enable an evidence-based program review. Over the course of the pilot, Housing & Homelessness staff met biweekly with the BIA and AMHS-KFLA to review the program’s effectiveness and ensure the goals and objectives were being met.

The report summarizes those findings. Since July 2023, 1,051 personal connections to individuals and business staff/owners in downtown Kingston were made through the program. The report notes this is not a sum of separate individuals; some percentages may be skewed due to recurring interactions with some individuals and to the brief nature of some of the interactions, the report notes.

Statistically, the report revealed quite a bit:

  • 76 per cent of persons the stewards connected with identified as homeless
  • 20 per cent were housed
  • 4 percent of people’s housing was not confirmed (unknown housing status)
  • 61 per cent of people were age 30-54
  • 24 per cent were age 55-64
  • 11 per cent were age 18-29
  • 59 per cent identified as male
  • 35 per cent identified as female
  • six per cent identified as gender non-conforming, transgender, or the person did not confirm
  • 36 per cent identified as Indigenous, First Nations, Non-status or Metis
  • 56 per cent received Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits
  • 17 per cent received Ontario Works (OW) benefits
  • 20 per cent would not/did not disclose their income
  • 5 per cent had no income
  • 920 personal items/supplies were distributed over the last eight months, with the most items provided in November and February:271 outdoor/winter supplies such as hand warmers, winter boots, coats, scarves, toques, and gloves
    229 basic needs items such as hygiene products, food, and water
    136 clothing items, including shoes, pants, hoodies, coats, underwear, and socks
    81 harm reduction supplies
    28 transit passes
    Other items included cell phones, gift cards, and naloxone kits

The report notes that this pilot project demonstrates the work and compassion required to foster connections and build community; however, it also recognizes that this work can be challenging. AMHS-KFLA and the BIA shared that staffing for the program has been difficult due to the nature of the contract and the experience required for the positions. “This is a common challenge in this sector,” the report emphasizes. “However, both organizations are committed to ensuring the program is staffed and the deliverables are being met.”

According to the report, all current Housing and Homelessness programs will be reviewed by year end. This review will consider the operation and funding of Street Outreach services, and once it is completed, staff will return to Council with an update and recommendations for the operation and funding of these services moving forward. Given the timeline of the planned review, staff have recommended that the current Welcoming Streets pilot program be extended until December 31, 2024.

More information about the program can be found at the Welcoming Streets page of the Downtown Kingston website.

The agenda from this meeting of Kingston City Council can be found on the City of Kingston’s council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in its entirety on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.

Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month (except in July and August, when it meets once each month) at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at Kingston City Hall, 216 Ontario Street.

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