Pandemic presses Kingston's need for social housing solutions

Employee Greg Badour says the Integrated Care Hub is more than a safe place for people who use substances — it also provides hot meals, showers and a connection to other community resources.  (Michelle Allan/CBC - image credit)
Employee Greg Badour says the Integrated Care Hub is more than a safe place for people who use substances — it also provides hot meals, showers and a connection to other community resources. (Michelle Allan/CBC - image credit)

This story is part of CBC's new pop-up bureau in Kingston, Ont. If we should know about something happening in the area, send us an email.

Greg Badour says he found himself homeless for the first time about a year and a half ago.

"It was tough for me, just because I've always had a roof over my head."

In Kingston, housing is in short supply — historically, the city has had some of the lowest vacancy rates in the province.

While the vacancy rate has risen in the past year, so have rents. With the added financial pressures of the pandemic, many people have struggled to afford housing.

Kingston City Councillor Bridget Doherty estimates there are between 200 to 400 people in the city experiencing homelessness.

Many people who struggle with homelessness, substance use or mental health issues are acutely vulnerable to COVID-19.

Badour moved into a motel on Monday, before that like many others, he would have nowhere to isolate if he tested positive.

A safe place to isolate

This fact was recognized by the Integrated Care Hub, a drop-in centre that provides consumption and treatment services.

Without many other housing options in the city, the hub is struggling to provide safe places to isolate for those among Kingston's homeless population.

Badour works at the centre and has been a client in the past.

"We had an outbreak of COVID here a month ago, and it's been hectic, but we've just all pulled together and we got through it," he said.

Consumption treatment coordinator Justine McIsaac says the hub gives some of Kingston's most vulnerable citizens a place to belong. "We're the last stop for a lot of people."

She says they have been working to put people in hotels, but with so many in need and a limited amount of resources and funding, it has had to come up with alternative solutions.

They've set up three trailers on site as overflow isolation. While they are equipped with heat and power, McIsaac says the trailers are a measure they've resorted to "out of fear and desperation."

"We're asking people to isolate in a trailer for 10 days and hope for the best. And there was no other option. We were the option, right? And nobody is okay with it."

Michelle Allan / CBC
Michelle Allan / CBC

Longer term solution needed

Doherty praised the Integrated Care Hub's ability to provide essential frontline support to the city throughout the pandemic.

But she says she worries the amount of need in the community is too much for any one organization to meet — especially when staff are already tasked with responding to overdoses daily.

The Integrated Care Hub provides meals, showers and connections to other services for community members who often face barriers to care — but it was never designed to tackle Kingston's housing crisis head on.

"Almost everybody in our community is putting pressure on the Integrated Care Hub to solve the housing crisis," says Doherty, who is a member of Kingston's Housing and Homelessness Committee.

Michelle Allan / CBC
Michelle Allan / CBC

"We need to be able to look after everyone in our community... I can't see why we can't do it."

She says that federal and provincial governments need to support municipalities in creating more social housing.

While the city is working to build more units, Doherty says they have to make up for a decades-long deficit.

Badour agrees.

"We need housing....Not tomorrow, not next month. We need it now."