Homeless Kingston Residents Interview Showcases Problems with Current Approach

Disclosure: The writer has been involved with Katarokwi Union of Tenants and Kingston Peace Council in certain capacities.

Kingston’s housing crisis has notably worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic, with shelters reportedly overflowing or becoming unsafe, individual citizens filling in the gaps, and reports of a completely inefficient and ineffective Housing and Homeless Committee. In the midst of what politicians are calling a housing crisis for Ontario, another video from the YouTube channel of Sebastian Vaillancourt has been released, talking to two residents who previously lived at Belle Park homeless encampment, before the city and law enforcement evicted them.

Sebastian Vaillancourt was also the channel that uploaded the previous interview with Charles, that I wrote about earlier this year. In conjunction with Katarokwi Union of Tenants and Kingston Peace Council, Sebastian and representative from Katarokwi Union of Tenants Ivan Stoiljkovic interview Nicki and Ben.

“The one time they say you’re fine then the mob shows up as we call them, all the city workers, the cops, then you have two hours to pack your shit and get out of here, which caused… me going to the hospital with six stitches in my cheekbone… One of the ratchet straps we had holding the tent down was holding the tension… and I wasn’t thinking… the pole came out of the ground and smashed me in the face… now I’m useless and she has to do our pack-up in two hours which is almost impossible for one person to do… Then they said it was a false eviction… it’s not a joke to us, it’s our fucking lives, it’s where we live, man.”

“Before the city found us, we felt safe.”

“Then they said it was a false eviction… it’s not a joke to us, it’s our fucking lives, it’s where we live, man.”

The false eviction that Ben’s referring to took place July 28, 2020, when at 10am, City of Kingston bylaw officers distributed eviction notices to residents staying at the park, in what was later discovered to be an error in the City’s original messaging. City of Kingston CAO Lanie Hurdle, was quoted as stating, “The intent today was to verbally ask campers that are on the contaminated land to relocate to the front of the park”.

The residents at the park were not told to relocate from “contaminated land”, only that they needed to vacate in two hours, which mobilized local activists to arrive at the park in solidarity. After the clarity was communicated the City of Kingston evicted the residents just over a month later.

Due to this and other experiences with the community and the City’s response, Nicki had some strong words for the interviewers.

“If they just came off their pedestal enough to actually look us in the eyes to see that we’re not parasites, we’re not bottom feeders. We’re normal people. We’re your neighbours, [we] had either a really rough patch in [our] life or some have mental health that is coming about, even then, they’re not giving proper care for, you know? Take those millions and help them, don’t just throw them out to the street because they like to talk to themselves or they like to dance or they wear weird clothing… get to know the person underneath it.”

Mental health funding in Kingston has been notoriously difficult for some residents to access, and while there have been improvements in the addition of two mental health beds at the Kingston Health and Sciences Centre, and the United Way put out a call that resulted in some funding for the Addictions and Mental Health Services of Kingston, few initiatives for increased funding or direct municipal projects have been implemented.

Housing should be a human right, the fact that it’s financially beneficial to do so should only be the cherry on-top.

“The homelessness? We’re not going to go away until we get housed and left alone… either build us some brand new big ol’ apartments… or let us have our own community out of the way, where we’re not bugging you… We’re not doing vandalizing, actually criminal activity has cut down because most of us have kept watch…”

It’s true. The crisis of homelessness will not subside by harassing and pushing around those who have fallen on hard times. In fact, we have been shown time, after time, after time, that it is cheaper to house the homeless, than to abandon them, or simply strive for incremental change. Not only is it paramount that we accept this for monetary purposes, but for the mere humanitarian aspect. Housing should be a human right, the fact that it’s financially beneficial to do so should only be the cherry on-top.

Despite the illuminating glare that this interview with Nicki and Ben has shown, the video shows consistent resolve by the couple, and praise for the community that has welcomed, trained, and looked out for them during this trying period.

“Same way as we are with everyone else homeless on the streets, we’re a community, we’re a family of ourselves. If one has a problem, there’s ten of us going to be there to help them out. If your neighbour has a problem, I guarantee you that block isn’t even going to go up to that door.”

Nicki could be right, it’s possible that our neighbours wouldn’t handle problems like a tight-knit community like theirs would, and it’s up to all of us to change it.

You can help Kingston’s homeless community by donating here.

Scott Martin is a writer for The Beaverton, and runs the YouTube channel Pinko Punko. He can be found on Twitter.

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Writer with articles in Canadian Dimension, Passage, and The Beaverton, Pinko Punko on YouTube, sole member of The Tar Sands. Terminally online.

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Scott Martin

Scott Martin

Writer with articles in Canadian Dimension, Passage, and The Beaverton, Pinko Punko on YouTube, sole member of The Tar Sands. Terminally online.