Ottawa·Ontario Votes 2022

Homelessness, housing worry voters in Kingston and the Islands

A guaranteed living wage is a key issue for voters in Kingston and the Islands as homelessness is front of mind ahead of the provincial election.

'For a city this size, with such wealth, it's shameful'

A poster calling attention to Kingston, Ont.,'s homelessness crisis dots a downtown pole last week. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

A guaranteed living wage and housing are key issues for voters in Kingston and the Islands, as homelessness is front of mind ahead of the Ontario provincial election on June 2.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Partners in Mission food bank in Kingston, Ont., served between 45 and 55 families per day, according to Tony Mader, the food bank's long-serving operations manager.

Today, it's more like 65 to 70.

"The need is greater than that, but our operation can only handle 70," said Mader, who is among those calling on whatever party secures the Kingston and the Islands seat to guarantee people a living wage.

Volunteers pack care kits at the Partners in Mission food bank in Kingston, Ont., on May 12, 2022. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"Then people wouldn't have to starve and wouldn't have to be homeless," he said.

"We wouldn't need to be here."

Kingston has one of the lowest rental vacancy rates in Ontario at 1.4 per cent, while many people are unable to afford housing.

More than 200 people were experiencing homelessness in the city as of an April 2021 point-in-time count by United Way. Per-capita, that's higher than the rate in Ottawa.

Jim McTague, who lives in a house overlooking Skeleton Park in Kingston's downtown core, said he sees people constantly pitching tents in the park and believes more attention should be paid to the mentally ill and homeless. 

"It's getting out of hand in Kingston," he said. "There's lots of people out there that are walking the streets that shouldn't be, that are ill, and there should be some more housing for them." 

Resident Jim McTague says homelessness, and issues around mental health, are a problem in Kingston. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Parties raise the issues during elections, McTague added, but "once they get in, the story gets forgotten."

International student Neeraj Nainwal can't vote but as a newcomer discovering the city, he said he's noticed the problem.

"Government needs to make sure homeless people are treated well and they get what they deserve," Nainwal said. 

Neeraj Nainwal, an international student living in Kingston. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Michael Peters moved to Kingston two years ago. At one point he lived by a main downtown intersection just south of Artillery Park, where people also camped out.

"It is a very frequent occurrence to just see people in distress wandering the streets," Peters said. 

"For a city this size, with such wealth and such privilege … to have that sort of a problem, it's shameful, really."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

With files from Michelle Allan

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