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Closing the Distance in Kingston

"A Room of One's Own"

"Last weekend, O'Neil and his friend Mark Stone spent the days in parking lots, drinking to keep warm, he said. Both men look tired and unkempt, but they laugh easily and bond over their shared experiences. It's important to partner with someone when the weather gets cold, O'Neil said. 'You have to try to take care of each other,' he said. Having someone with you on the streets in the winter can mean the difference between life and death. Stone has died three times on the street. Twice last year and once already this year, Stone's heart stopped during a cold night. Each time, he was found and revived, he said, despite having ice crystals in his lungs." (The Kingston Whig-Standard, January 20, 2004)

On the evening of January 19, 2004, John Gerretsen, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Kingston MPP, city bureaucrats and several Kingston City Councillors hear this story first-hand, and the stories of many other poor and homeless people in Kingston. These politicians and city staff join community agency workers and homeless people for a bus tour of shelters, hospitals, hang-outs and sleeping places used by homeless people in Kingston.

This bus tour is organized by Kingston's Health and Housing Coalition to follow a meeting held earlier that same evening by the Kingston Closing the Distance Project. The Closing the Distance Project, known in Kingston as "A Room of One's Own" (ROOO), has arranged to meet with their local MPP and Municipal Affairs Minister, John Gerretsen. Over 50 people fill the meeting room of a downtown church while homeless people, tenants and landlords from the ROOO group speak honestly with their MPP, sharing harsh experiences of poverty and homelessness, naming key issues in the community, and presenting possible solutions to these problems.

Minister Gerretsen and the City Councillors are surprised by some of the issues raised at the meeting. They are also impressed by how tenants, homeless people and landlords are able to work together to articulate their concerns and present possible solutions in a constructive way.

Just over a year before, on December 5 2002, a group of community leaders from the health, housing, education and social sectors had come together for a community visioning meeting about the Kingston Closing the Distance Project. They realized that many different people in Kingston face the threat - or the reality - of homelessness. They decided that, in order to close the distance for homeless people in Kingston, it would be important to involve not only homeless people, but also landlords. From here A Room of One's Own began its journey to "close the distance".

Mural
Mural, Community Visioning Session, Kingston, December 5, 2002 (Click for larger version)

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