Coronavirus: Kingston councillors urge schools to open dorms to homeless

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A petition is asking Queen's University and St. Lawrence College to open its residence buildings to homeless people in Kingston as the spread of COVID-19 grows. – Mar 23, 2020

A petition created by a Kingston woman is asking local post-secondary institutions to open its dorms to local homeless people.

The petition, titled Open Student Residences for Kingston Homeless People, came to life on March 23 after Lesley Jamieson noticed that the communities most at need were falling by the wayside.

“This is a petition where we’re calling upon the city, Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College to work together to find a solution to house homeless populations in Kingston in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jaimeson outside one of Kingston’s downtown warming centres.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: St. Lawrence College, Queen’s University advise students, faculty to avoid campus

In recent weeks, Queen’s U and SLC cancelled all in-person classes and urged students to avoid gathering on campus.

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This, in turn, led many students to return home and forgo their remaining few months living in residence for the 2019-2020 school year.

Jaimeson said this would be an opportune time for the city and the schools to collaborate and welcome Kingston’s homeless population, removing them from the streets, where they could potentially spread the COVID-19 virus, and placing them in individual rooms to self-isolate.

“At present, homeless people, including women fleeing from abusive homes, must rely on shelters and warming centres that are simply not equipped to allow people to practice social distancing — attempts to space accommodations in existing facilities is not a real solution, and only excludes more people from a shelter,” wrote Jaimeson in her petition form.

The president and CEO of St. Lawrence College, Glenn Vollebregt, told Global News via email that the school is committed to the health of students but says he understands the school’s responsibility in times of need.

“We are working with our community partners, college staff, and residence management to determine the viability of residence being used for community housing.”

A representative from Queen’s University echoed this message saying, “We are working closely with KFL&A Public Health and our other community partners to determine the best use of our collective resources, including our residences.”

According to Queen’s, the majority of students living in the dorms are now gone, but several hundred still remain on-campus, and the school is in ongoing discussions on how to address this.

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The petition was endorsed by Kingston councillors Peter Stroud and Robert Kiley, both who took to social media on Sunday to ask Kingstonians to sign the petition to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Sign it. We can do this, and we need to be considering every single person when we deal with our response to COVID-19,” said Kiley via skype.

When asked how the city will address this and or help in maintaining this homeless housing initiative, Kiley said he trusts city staff’s ability to handle contractual details such as cleaning, security and those responsible for the intake of the people using the rooms.

Kiley adds this needs to be initiated quickly but says he is looking for more answers from city staff as to how this can be accomplished.

READ MORE: 4 new COVID-19 cases in Kingston region, total up to 8: public health

In the meantime, the City of Kingston’s director of housing and social services, Ruth Noordegraaf, says staff is addressing social distancing within its homeless population by moving its youth shelter to 113 Lower Union St. to provide social distancing while receiving services and is finalizing details on a facility in the west end where those seeking support can safely self-isolate while receiving services.

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The use of Queen’s University and SLC residence buildings will be discussed at Tuesday’s city council meeting that is set to be held virtually for the first time.