Just over a year after it opened, Kingston’s Integrated Care Hub (ICH) is going under the political microscope.
Faced with ongoing complaints about trash and vandalism, council supported a request by Coun. Rob Hutchison to conduct a third-party review of the 661 Montreal St. homeless hub to assess whether it is “properly and effectively fulfilling its mandate” and report the findings to council by February of 2022.
Hutchison’s amendment was rolled into a broader motion to extend municipal funding to keep the hub operating until April 2022, and to install 10 sleeping cabins for homeless people at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour this winter.
He wants the homeless hub, established in its current location at Montreal and Railway streets since July 2020, to be the focus of an independent study on not only its effectiveness but also its impact on neighbourhood security and garbage.
“There is a continues to be considerable amount of garbage way beyond what was there before. It’s fairly shocking, actually,” he said.
Hutchinson, whose district includes the care hub, says the city owes it to area businesses and residents to undertake a thorough review of the pros and cons of the hub, which operates at capacity most days, offering food, safety, shelter and counselling support services.
It was set up during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when Kingston, like many municipalities, started to experience an increase in homelessness.
“If the ICH is something worthwhile, I’d like them to prove it to me,” Hutchison said.
Coun. Mary Rita Holland supported an external review when it was debated by council last week.
“We can learn more and we can do better to serve this population,” she said.
Chief administrator Lanie Hurdle told council that the cost of the review can be covered within existing municipal budgets.
“I don’t anticipate it will be a significant amount of money,” she said.
Mayor Bryan Paterson supported an analysis of the homeless centre, but also spoke about its importance.
“In 2020 Kingston was the only community in Ontario where the rate of opioid deaths went down. I’m quite sure the ICH had something to do with that.”
The mayor added that Ontario’s Ministry of Health is “very interested” in this model of providing a one-stop service centre for the city’s vulnerable population.
Ironically, the fate of the hub’s continued operation could very well rest with the Health Ministry.
Hurdle cautioned that the city can’t continue to afford to keep it running without provincial funding support. The city has, so far, pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the hub’s operation.
“We’d need to close the ICH in April. We do not have local capacity to pay for it. We’d need Health Ministry funding to keep it going beyond next spring.”