Kingston Council Votes to Conclude Controversial Sleeping Cabin Program Amid Mixed Reactions

The sleeping cabin program started in January 2022 and has grown to include 17 structures. It was regularly moved between Portsmouth Olympic Harbour and the Centre 70 arena based on seasonal activities at both sites. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

In a move that signals an end to one of the city’s temporary homelessness solutions, Kingston City Council voted on Tuesday to discontinue the sleeping cabin initiative that provided transitional housing to the city’s homeless population. The decision, which passed with a 10-2 majority, plans to transition the current 17 residents into other housing forms by spring 2024.

The pilot project, which began in January 2022, saw an initial investment of over $400,000 from the city, and additional operational funding was earmarked to start in 2023. Despite this, the cabins, which have been located at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour and Centre 70 arena, faced criticism for being a substandard living solution and a temporary fix to a growing crisis.

Kingston city councillors discuss options for the sleeping cabins project in Kingston on Tuesday. PHOTO BY ELLIOT FERGUSON/The Whig-Standard

Councilor Ryan Boehme, who advocated for the project’s end, expressed concerns over the living conditions, which he likened to “sheds” and deemed “irresponsible” to inhabit. He emphasized the need for true transitional housing over the cabins which he and other council members viewed as an ineffective use of resources.

Kingston city councillors voted 10-2 Tuesday night to end the sleeping cabin program after transitioning the 17 residents to other housing. PHOTO BY ELLIOT FERGUSON The Whig-Standard

The community response to the program has been mixed. Some residents and advocacy groups have raised concerns about fire risks, citing two serious fires over a nine-month period and potential liability issues for the city. Others worried about the impact of the cabins on local neighborhoods, with Jennifer Ingham, a local resident, likening the proposed Rodden Park location to “suddenly having a motel next door where there used to be a park.”

Marsha Wiggins stands among 17 sleeping cabins at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour in Kingston, Ont. She and other residents taking part in the program, which provides them with tiny shelters, wonder about their future after city council voted to wind it down. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Marsha Wiggins, a resident of the cabins, defended the project, highlighting the value it brought to individuals like herself by providing stability and basic amenities such as access to showers. “It’s nice being clean,” Wiggins explained, emphasizing the dignity the cabins offered. She also contested the stigmatization of cabin residents, inviting skeptics to visit and see the safety and community for themselves.

Chrystal Wilson is the executive director of Our Livable Solutions, which runs the sleeping cabin program. She says council’s decision to end it left her very disappointed. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Chrystal Wilson, the executive director of Our Livable Solutions, which operates the cabins, argued that despite only three residents transitioning to permanent housing, the program had been successful in providing stability. After the vote, a disappointed Wilson said, “You shouldn’t be looking for high numbers. We’re transition housing.”

Supporters of the cabins, such as Marguerite Van Die, argued that the program provided a necessary and innovative approach to the homelessness issue, suggesting that initial fears were unfounded and eventually led to acceptance and even support from local communities.

More than 40 people watched the Kingston city council debate about the sleeping cabin project from Memorial Hall at City Hall on Tuesday. PHOTO BY ELLIOT FERGUSON/The Whig-Standard

The city’s director of housing and social services, Ruth Noordegraaf, assured that the transition plan would not result in residents returning to homelessness, indicating potential extensions at the Centre 70 site if necessary.

Despite the assurances, the end of the sleeping cabin program has reignited the debate over how to address chronic homelessness effectively. With the council’s decision, the future of transitional housing in Kingston remains uncertain, as does the fate of those who have come to rely on the cabins as their temporary home.