“I think we’re really looking forward to building on the pilot of the Artillery Park space, the way it’s designed and the capacity to serve more clients, which we desperately need,” said Mike Bell CEO of Kingston Community Health Centres (KCHC). “That’s the first and foremost benefit moving forward.”
The Integrated Care Hub provides low-barrier services and support to Kingston’s most vulnerable, including Consumption Treatment Services operated by KCHC, overnight sleeping pods and resting areas, washrooms, food and social services. The ICH is poised to open at its new location at 661 Montreal St. on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020.
With only ten days remaining before opening, the building still appears to be largely in the throes of construction, with environmental remediation of the contaminated property still underway.
Gilles Charette, Executive Director of the HIV / Aids Regional Services (HARS) and manager at the ICH, said he has attended weekly site visits during the property’s development, and is fully confident the project is on track. He suggested that the new space might have a greater capacity than Artillery Park down the road, when the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
“We are working closely with Public Health to see what might be possible, but the nice thing about the way this space has been completed is it has footprints that are wide open spaces,” Charette said.
“Currently with COVID we’re more limited than we will be post-COVID,” he said. “We are looking at what’s possible by way of the number of washrooms in the space, how flexible the space is to be able to accommodate a few more people.”
Charette said he is not concerned about the previous chemical pollution at the former industrial waste site.
“I really feel confident in the measures that both the contractor and the City are taking to ensure the safety and wellness of both the staff and the people we serve,” he said. “There’s a lot of talk on this, on making it a safe and dignified space.”
Both Bell and Charette said they are committed to being “good neighbours,” in response to recent petitions to City Council against the facility’s placement.
On Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, Council received a petition signed by 186 residents and business owners against the relocation of the ICH to their neighbourhood. This was in addition to a letter signed by 19 business owners with similar concerns. In contrast, the Katorakwi Union of Tenants submitted their own petition the same night, bearing 445 signatures in support of the ICH and its new location.
“We do want to be a collaborative partner in this,” Bell said. “Many of the individuals who will be using 661 when it’s finished are already in the neighbourhood. This will allow for increased safety and security for our neighbours.”
“There are a lot of services that our clients are already accessing in this area,” Charette said. “But as a team we are mindful of those concerns and really intent on providing a good experience for the people we serve. We intend to be a good neighbour and really thoughtful.”
Ruth Noordegraaf, Director of Housing and Social Services at the City of Kingston, said she believes the ICH is an important part of a continuum of services.
“Quite often people think homelessness is giving people keys to an apartment. The last six months, we have realized that it’s not that simple and there’s a need for wrap-around services,” she said.
She noted the City is in the process of reviewing homeless services in general as they come to the end of agreements with their service providers in 2021.
“Whether it’s a few hours in a resting space, a shelter bed for a week, a supportive housing service or transitional housing I think they’re all essential, different types of services,” she said. “I think we have to do a better job as well, as a community, to define what services we want to see. This is definitely not a one-size fits all.”
Story written by Samantha Butler-Hassan of The Kingstonist for the Local Journalism Initiative