Portsmouth Olympic Harbour sleeping cabins project extended, future remains uncertain

Click to play video: 'POH sleeping cabins receive extension, but future’s uncertain'
POH sleeping cabins receive extension, but future’s uncertain
The Portsmouth Olympic Harbour sleeping cabin program is looking for a new location before its extended May 17 deadline – Apr 21, 2022

The occupants of sleeping cabins at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour (POH) in Kingston, Ont., can stay where they are for a few more weeks.

Without a new location secured to continue to pilot program, the tiny homes were set to be put into storage at the end of the month — but council agreed to an extension.

“I think it gives staff an adequate time to work on a more permanent solution,” said Councillor Jim Neill during the Tuesday city council meeting. “But it doesn’t force out those 10 people who are currently living in the sleeping cabins.”

While many community members and local politicians have called the program a success, there is still a lot of uncertainty over what will happen to the homes and the people who live there.

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“I can’t do this again, I just can’t. I don’t have the strength anymore to do it,” says sleeping cabin resident Barry Shea at the prospect of being relocated.

A retired PSW, Shea has been living on the streets for about 10 years.

He gets choked up thinking about the possibility of losing the first place that he’s called home in ages.

“I think everybody that lives here, all the residents, it pretty much saved their lives,” Shea says. “I like it here, I really do. This is the one place I have called home in a long time.”

Click to play video: 'Sleeping cabin pilot project looking for a new home'
Sleeping cabin pilot project looking for a new home

“It was a good thing that this thing came along,” says cabin resident Sean Hith. “At least I got warm and was able to think. When I was out on the street, all I did was spend every day, all day preparing for the next night. And you had no time to get anything done and it was just like that day after day. And one day led into the next and it’s just seamless.”

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An information report presented to council even showed that the pilot program is projected to come in under budget at $257,000.

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Council’s temporary extension will see the cabins allowed to remain at POH until May 17.

City staff now have less than a month to figure out what happens next with the cabins.

In a statement to Global News, Kingston’s Housing and Social Services Department says, “City staff are working on short-term and long-term options with many associated variables. So although staff are focused on the May 17 deadline, they want to ensure the options chosen are the most appropriate and sustainable.”

City staff are reviewing options, including the consideration to retrofit an existing building and “build a communal space on a City-owned site or privately owned site, and/or the use of temporary structures such as trailers or retrofitted portables.”

The statement also says staff are investigating a “private offer for a site that requires significant time (up to two years) to operationalize, and would require a multi-year commitment.”

As all options are being explored, staff say it would be premature to identify a front-running accommodation at this point.

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Our Livable Solutions Executive Director Chrystal Wilson hopes that, between city staff and the community, a suitable location will soon be found to relocate the cabins.

“The residents are really doing well and they’re on good paths to wellness,” says Wilson. “One is about to move on from our cabin community and others should be soon following. And, you know, providing them this stability in a place where they feel comfortable is really important. Not disrupting the good work that they’ve done and the hard work they’ve done to get to a better place while they’ve been with us.”

If a new location is not secured by the May 17 deadline, Wilson has been given the directive by the city to secure hotel rooms as replacement housing for the cabin residents.

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