Kingston council votes through big spending on health care, homeless support

Click to play video: 'Kingston council votes through big spending on health care, homeless support'
Kingston council votes through big spending on health care, homeless support
Kingston council approved several big spending items over a two-day council session, including funding for the Integrated Care Hub, family doctors and a sleeping cabin program. – Nov 18, 2021

The City of Kingston has agreed to some large spending items when it comes to supporting the homeless and the health care sector, city council decided during a more than eight-hour session this week.

The meeting began Tuesday but spilled over into Wednesday night, with the second day starting with discussions on three important local health care spending.

Mayor Bryan Paterson put his support behind a number of the initiatives in need of further funding, including the Integrated Care Hub.

Read more: Steps being taken to address Integrated Care Hub issues raised by residents: Kingston mayor

A staff report suggested that the hub, a Montreal Street program that opened last summer meant to serve Kingston’s most vulnerable populations, would need city funding of $250,000 a year for the next three years to continue operations. Paterson was on board with the proposal.

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“In 2020, Kingston was the only community in Ontario where their rate of opioid deaths went down. So, I’m quite sure that the ICH had something to do with that.”

Paterson also noted during council that Ontario’s health minister personally asked the city to keep the hub going because the ministry is interested in the progress it has made and wants to visit to see it in action.

Other health items included entering into an eight-year agreement with KEYS Job Centre for the delivery of a family physician incentive program. This would cost the city $2 million over the course of that timespan.

Click to play video: '“Critical Needs” – Kingston’s family doctor shortage'
“Critical Needs” – Kingston’s family doctor shortage

The City of Kingston has been suffering from a family doctor shortage for the last several years, causing some people to wait for years at a time to access primary care.

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Finally, council decided on funding of over $25 million over the course of 10 years to the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation for the Kingston Health Sciences Centre expansion. Council was originally set to spend $10 million over the decade-long span, but an amendment from Paterson upped that spending to $25 million.

All three proposals passed.

Sleeping cabins narrowly pass

Two matters were brought before council to help those experiencing homelessness in the city this winter. A $300,000 funding commitment for a new warming and counselling centre that would run from December 2021 to April 2022 passed without much issue.

But unlike the warming centre and the health initiatives, a proposal to install 10 sleeping cabins for unhoused people this winter at the Portsmouth Olympic Harbour garnered more debate.

The sleeping cabin proposal narrowly passed in a 7-5 vote, with councillors Lisa Osanic, Gary Oosterhof, Simon Chapelle, Peter Stroud and Wayne Hill in dissent.

Read more: Community weighs in at Kingston council on Portsmouth harbour sleeping cabins

Several delegations came forward to speak about the initiative at Tuesday night’s portion of the meeting, some voicing their support for the pilot project, while others expressing concern that no public consultation had taken place on the location.

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“We heard from some of the delegations last night, big lists of concerns that still need to be worked out. And at the same time, you know, winter is coming and we need to get the sleeping cabins implemented as soon as possible if we’re going to go forward with this,” Osanic said Wednesday night while debating the proposed funding for the cabins, which stands at more than $250,000.

Coun. Stroud proposed a motion to review both the sleeping cabin and warming centre proposals, but most around the virtual horseshoe agreed that with winter at our doorstep, urgent action was necessary.

“This could literally save the lives of the people who use the cabins. And we know that this is only 10 of potentially 400 people who need shelter this winter. So I think it’s the least we can do,” said Coun. Robert Kiley.

Click to play video: 'Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson updates the community on sleeping cabins for the homeless and the current COVID-19 situation'
Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson updates the community on sleeping cabins for the homeless and the current COVID-19 situation

For Stroud, the sticking point was the location of the cabins.

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“I really don’t like the location for many reasons, mainly because it’s so far from downtown,” Stroud said.

Despite some questions from councillors about the rapidity of the approved location for the cabins, the city will be going ahead with the pilot project.

City staff will work alongside Our Livable Solutions, the grassroots group that brought the idea to council earlier this year, and Portsmouth residents to install the cabins at the harbour site from December 2021 to April 2022.

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