In October/Fall 2021 the Homelessness Collective Impact Committee was convened by the United Way KFL&A with the goal to design, develop and adapt a system of care for people who are experiencing chronic homelessness.
Co-chaired by Susan Stewart of KFL&A Public Health and Bhavana Varma of United Way KFL&A, the committee is made up of people from different sectors of the Kingston community, including funders, agencies, community organizations and groups, government, healthcare professionals – with the voice of people with lived experience informing and guiding strategy and decisions. The committee comes together regularly to review the current realities of homelessness within Kingston.
The issue of homelessness is a complex one which requires a collaborative effort and a forum where different questions – transformative questions can be asked. These can range from ‘how can we help someone find housing’ to ‘what does “home” mean to each individual on the path to being housed’. There is a need to work with a person’s unique circumstances so we can find a better way forward.
In Kingston, there are just over 200 people who are not permanently housed. This number does not include the hidden homeless – people who may be living rough, couch-surfing or accessing other inadequate housing options.
Based on a recent review of the system, it appears that the shelter system is working – as best as can be expected with reduced capacity and other challenges due to the pandemic. Housing First principles and practices are adopted. There appear to be gaps to support people who are often classified as ‘hard-to-serve’.
Many people cycle in and out of homelessness, often due to substance use, mental illness, behavioural issues. The Integrated Care Hub provides spaces during the day, services, food, a consumption site. At night there is space for 45-50 people to drop in and stay warm or cool, depending on the weather. Addictions & Mental Health services, nursing services and Street Outreach visit this space; however there is limited ability for stabilization, secure and safe spaces for every individual, or a chance to eventually access shelter and/or housing. The Warming & Counselling Centre opened this winter, and provides meals, beds and housing and counselling supports.
Specifically, the key responsibilities of the committee are to:
Meetings were held bi-weekly with a focus on deepening the understanding of the Kingston shelter and support systems and the pressures that they are facing. It is important the committee deepened the collective understanding of the front-line agencies who serve those experiencing homelessness.
Through the sharing of the powerful stories and perspectives of the people served and experiences of front-line agencies, healthcare providers and city staff, it was recognised that there needs to be large-scale change to tackle the growing and complex issue of homelessness which will require broad cross-sector collaboration. There are many issues and limited resources. Through panels, breakout groups and in-depth discussions during these meetings, the committee identified the following as the most pressing issues requiring attention to affect real change:
Top priority areas identified:
1. Short-term solution for homelessness in winter/day services/housing people with high acuity
2. Shortage in staffing
3. Discharge planning – Transitional and / or supportive housing
4. Advocating and educating against stigma
For more details on these priority areas and the progress that has been made so far, view the summary document here.
Co-chairs: Bhavana Varma (United Way KFL&A), Susan Stewart (KFL&A Public Health). Coordination and administrative support for the HCIC is provided through United Way KFLA.
All levels of government: