A group of community members gathered in front of the Ministry of Health in downtown Kingston On Friday afternoon with a clear message: the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) needs its’ funding renewed.
Despite whiteout conditions, over 50 people gathered to hear excerpts from PhD candidate Candice M. Christmas’ community needs assessment, read by different speakers including Queen’s professors, organizer Jeremy Milloy and Portsmouth District Councillor Bridget Doherty.
The assessment points out long term challenges faced by those suffering from addiction, and how those have been further complicated and compounded by COVID-19.
This rally comes just a few days after the Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Board of Health unanimously passed a motion put forward by Councillor Mary Rita Holland that will see the board “write to Minister of Health Christine Elliott, asking for long-term provincial health funding to ensure the evidence-based solutions to the drug poisoning crisis can continue with stability.”
The Integrated Care Hub has been operational since 2020, and through the City of Kingston’s emergency pandemic fund has helped to provide services and shelter to community members, specifically those suffering from mental health and addiction issues.
However, Kingston says it can no longer provide the money needed to operate the ICH, and with no provincial funding commitment, the innovative, evidence-based model could be forced to close its doors at the end of April.
The ICH was born following the evictions of homeless encampments in Belle Park, which Candice Christmas says itself existed because social services discriminate against those with substance abuse issues.
Christmas says that going back to what previous ways of dealing with community members with addiction cannot be an option.
“People wonder why, what was different before, why can’t we just go back to where we were before?” Christmas said to the crowd.
“Well we can’t, because people were denied shelter, people were denied mental health services. And as I was getting bundled up for today thinking, if the ICH wasn’t here these people would be in alleyways right now.”
She added that moving these vulnerable people around continues a cycle of victimizing them.
In Christmas’ report, 32 stakeholders who have used crystal meth or opioids were interviewed sharing their experiences, challenges and needs.
Christmas became emotional as she shared that during this process, 4 of those who were interviewed had died.
The assessment highlights issues like lack of affordable housing, inadequate mental health services and stigma within institutions as significant issues working to block the fight against addiction.
One of the more shocking findings in the assessment was that 90% of participants said they had experienced serious head trauma at some point in their life.
Nearly 95% of participants also said they had received multiple formal mental health diagnoses in their life.
Although the main funding ask is from the provincial government, Christmas also encourages members of the community to write their councillors as well, noting that there is more work to be done than just keeping the ICH doors open.
“If you notice from this document it’s very interdisciplinary, there’s no one ministry that can solve this,” Christmas said.
The ICH, she says, helps to centralize the variety of services needed by the homeless community and those suffering from addiction.
Many who were interviewed said they felt welcomed at the hub, and a part of a community.
Since it opened its doors, the ICH has reversed over 500 overdoses.
Christmas’ 147 page document culminates with 8 recommendations.
A webinar will be taking place on March 7 from 7-9 discussing drug poisoning in Kingston and what individuals can do to help, registration and more details can be found here.
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