By Jodi La Marco
Callie Jayne is the founder and executive director of Rise Up Kingston. Created just last March, the non-profit organization is sparking change by helping those hit hardest by inequality. Before working for two years with Citizen Action—the folks who brought us Faso Fridays—Jayne ran a non-profit food pantry. During her time there, Jayne’s vision for what would become Rise Up Kingston began to take shape. “As the government started cutting food stamps benefits, I realized (the food pantry) wasn’t willing to take a stand on that. They were happy continuing to provide meals, which is important, but it’s not a solution,” says Jayne. “Instead of trying to provide people with food, we want to help people change the system so that they have all the food that they need. It’s about changing the structure and not just working within the structures so that we simply put a band-aid on things. We want to ensure that we are living in a way where everyone’s needs are met.”
Jayne’s mission is to create change by engaging those who are most directly impacted by inequality. “The biggest difference between the work I was doing previously and the work I’m doing with Rise Up Kingston is that the room is not full of activists, and we don’t want it to be,” explains Jayne. “We believe we need to have a multi-racial, cross-class way of organizing. We’re really trying to create a space where those who have not traditionally had voices are the people who are in the room creating strategies. So, we are going through organizing meetings with, for example, mostly people of color, people with low incomes, and people from the LGBTQ community.”
The group has already honed in on two issues impacting Kingston’s most vulnerable populations: housing and criminal justice. “Housing is a huge issue. In order to really strengthen and grow communities, we need people to be able to have a community. People are moving so often and living in really bad conditions. When we talk about the housing crisis, we talk about affordability and taxes, but we’re forgetting about the way that some of our neighbors are living,” Jayne says.
Those who are without a permanent home are most at risk when it comes to being forced into poor living conditions. Unfortunately, even government solutions to the issue of homelessness often do not result in permanent, safe, appropriate housing. “The Department of Social Services sometimes places people in hotels that have horrible living conditions. These motels are not necessarily taken care of. They may have cockroaches and bedbugs,” Jayne says. Accommodations of this sort can be particularly bad for families. Children may be placed in a different room than their parents, and motel kitchens often lack full kitchens, leaving families unable to prepare healthy, home-cooked meals.
Renters may also find themselves living in substandard conditions, and are sometimes unable to protect themselves against negligent landlords. On Rise Up Kingston’s blog, which can be found on the organization’s website riseupkingston.org, staff have posted a number of entries which take a frank look at the challenges faced by residents. In a June 9 entry entitled “So you think you know about housing,” Cassandra Burke chronicles the ordeal of a Kingston woman who took legal action against a deadbeat landlord. Part of Rise Up’s function is to publicize the experiences of those most affected by inequality, and the organization’s blog does precisely that.
The blog also gets the word out about the organization’s upcoming events. Community meetings and forums are the bread and butter of Rise Up’s work. “In September, we put on a housing forum where we had seven residents, including myself, talk about their horrible housing situations. With housing, we’re working on creating some goals and building the leadership of directly-impacted people,” says Jayne. “We’re really working on creating a vision for housing. Quite honestly, we can protest all day long, but if we’re not actually trying to create solutions and move forward then we’re not going to get anywhere.”
Jayne is also hoping to have an impact on how the Kingston police department interacts with residents. “With policing, we are a little further along. We’ve been working on creating a change to the City of Kingston charter in order to change the way our police commission is structured, and provide safety and supportiveness to our community members through our complaints. In addition to our criminal justice committee, we have had sessions with the community where they can provide feedback on proposed changes to the police commission. We had two different sessions in November where people were able to give input on what’s wrong with situation, how we can change it, and guidelines for those changes. We also have done rapid response when people have had negative interactions with the police,” says Jayne. Proposed changes to the City of Kingston’s police charter are among some of the other informative posts found on Rise Up Kingston’s blog.
Interested in securing a fair and just future for all Kingstonians? Visit Rise Up Kingston’s website and click on the “get involved” tab at the top of the page. Short on time but still want to help? Consider making a donation. Funding helps the organization pursue its mission through advocacy, civic engagement, and education.