Council votes to extend bylaw exemptions at Belle Park

The moment Councillors Peter Stroud and Jim Neill voted against the first paragraph of the motion to allow bylaw exemptions to remain in place at Belle Park, allowing the encampment there to remain, until Friday, Jul. 31, 2020.

The meeting of Kingston City Council on Tuesday, Jul. 7, 2020 immediately got down to business, first tackling the deadline for the bylaw exemption allowing for the homeless encampment at Belle Park to remain.

In fact, that’s almost all Council was able to accomplish of the full agenda that lay before them at the start of the meeting. Nearly three hours later, Council voted in support of a new motion, which was tabled by Councillor Rob Hutchison and seconded by Councillor Jim Neill. That motion, now passed, came after Council voted unanimously to reconsider their previous decision regarding the deadline for allowing campers to remain in Belle Park. The motion to reconsider read as follows:

“That the following resolution, approved by Council on June 2, 2020, be reconsidered: That Council waive By-Law Number 2009-76, ‘A By-Law to Provide for the Regulation Use of Parks and Recreation Facilities of the Corporation of the City of Kingston’, over the next month, until July 7, 2020 only at Belle Park, to provide staff time to consult with Street Health Centre, HARS, AMHS, Home Base Housing and other community partners to communicate with each individual at Belle Park to identify priorities and plans for interim housing options and for long-term suitable supportive housing, using in-depth community consultation with the target of trauma informed, wrap around care for people experiencing homelessness, in order to permit a long transition period for campers currently located at Belle Park; and

That Council delegate authority to the Chief Administrative Officer or designated staff to make use of other properties or partnerships on a temporary basis, should it be required, in order to implement the transition plan for campers at Belle Park.”

After the motion to reconsider passed, Council heard from three delegates: Ivan Stoiljkovic, who spoke as an independent citizen in support of allowing those camping at Belle Park to remain indefinitely, and implored Council to work harder to address the real issues associated with housing and homelessness in Kingston; Doug Yearwood of the Katarokwi Union of Tenants, who spoke about the importance of removing the deadline looming over the homeless encampment, and; Dr. Eva Purkey, a professor at the Department of Family Medicine at Queen’s University, who also spoke in support of allowing the encampment to remain, and the stress associated with the idea of putting a deadline on how long the encampment can remain at Belle Park.

It should be noted that, while Council was sitting for this meeting, a rally in support of the encampment at Belle Park was taking place, with approximately 200 people in attendance.

For the most part, councillors responded to the delegations with genuine interest in learning more about what the delegates had spoken of, primarily with regard to best steps moving forward, the stress and anxiety associated with deadlines for the encampment to remain allowed in the Park, and how to best engage in meaningful conversation with those living in the Park – in terms of the latter, Dr. Purkey expressed that the residents at Belle Park are not inclined to speak with City Staff due to a perceived lack of trust, and suggested that the campers be engaged by the agencies who have already begun to make headway in this regard, namely Street Health and HARS Kingston.

However, in terms of Stoiljkovic’s delegation, Councillor Simon Chapelle took particular issue with some of Stoiljkovic’s comments.

Stoiljkovic had accused Council of being responsible for the current homeless situation in the city, investing in the wrong places in terms of development, and having more or less ignored developing more geared-to-income social housing, while neglecting to upkeep existing social housing.

“You’ve completed one single task of your housing and homelessness strategy, and that’s waiving fees to developers of all housing. That is cynical and outrageous. You’ve been given $1.4 million by the federal government to spend on homelessness. There’s a recent instance of $600,000 going to a luxury housing developer to build affordable units and so on. You have to start buying,” Stoiljkovic said as he neared the end of his allotted five minutes to speak.

“Kozy [Inn] is shutting down. Kozy Inn shut down and released 50 people on to the streets,” he continued, as Mayor Bryan Paterson attempted to cut him off as he’d exceeded his time limit. “Try building housing!”

While Councillor Peter Stroud asked questions of Stoiljkovic regarding where he feels the City should be developing and how that should look, Chapelle took his turn to question Stoiljkovic to instead make the following statement.

“I’m hoping, Mr. Stoiljkovic, you can hear me, because the types of comments and rhetoric you’re saying tonight does not endure me to your causes at all. In fact, I could take any abuse that you can throw at me, and I will smile at your face, but, Sir, when you besmirch Mohammed Ali Kahn, who owns the Kozy Inn, and tell lies, I will not tolerate that, Sir,” Chapelle said, as Paterson cut him off and expressed that Chapelle was only supposed to ask a question of the delegate. Just after this, Chapelle posted the following on Twitter:

With the delegations over, Hutchison tabled the new motion, which was to change that deadline to Friday, Jul. 31, 2020. That’s when Council began a lengthy debate, where each councillor spoke to the struggles they were experiencing in terms of decision making about the encampment, as well as their personal empathy and willingness to continue working to address the current homeless situation in Kingston. Because the issue of the encampment at Belle Park is one that many people in Kingston are taking very serious note of, this reporter felt it important to share what was said around the (virtual) horseshoe with the public – those who elected the decision makers in the first place.

Councillor Stroud spoke passionately in support of the concept of having no deadline for allowing the encampment to remain while the City works to re-home the campers at Belle Park. He pointed out the Council had not heard from any campers during the delegations, and that he felt hearing more from them was important.

“I am just not comfortable with the deadline,” Stroud said. He then motioned to amend the motion on the table, suggesting a December 31 deadline to work towards, which would basically give Council and the City until 2021 to work on the matter. He noted that, with the colder weather approaching, many of the campers were likely to move on from the park. His motion to amend was seconded by Councillor Mary Rita Holland.

Councillor Bridget Doherty spoke to the amendment first, voicing her support of the amendment and pointing out that there is already a waiting list for social housing, so the City needs to act carefully to ensure that, in attempting to rehome those at Belle Park, those on the waiting list are not overlooked. She asked City Staff to explain if the encampment was actually growing. CAO Lanie Hurdle responded that there are currently 23 individuals residing in Belle Park based on counts carried out on Monday, Jul. 6, 2020. She also noted that 6 people have already been housed from Belle Park, and three other people are currently waiting to be housed through the City and its agency partners. Doherty also asked Hurdle if Council and the City could confirm they will be able to provide enough housing.

“We’ll do our best,” Hurdle responded, noting that they may not be able to meet the needs of all of those currently living at the park, as some of them have expressed they have no interest in moving into shelter spaces or social housing.

Councillor Neill also spoke in support of the amendment and the motion not being date-specific.

“I want a commitment to those people currently at Belle Park,” he said.

Councillor Ryan Boehme said did not support the amendment, but did support the original motion, noting that the July 31 deadline would act as a catalyst.

“Homelessness doesn’t go away,” he said, noting that pushing the deadline back seems like pushing off the problem at hand. “A deadline kind of lights a fire under all of us.”

Councillor Robert Kiley then spoke, expressing support for the concept to working to criteria rather than a deadline, but agreed with Boehme that the deadline does “light a fire.” He suggested changing the wording to “as soon as possible,” but no motion to amend the amendment was tabled.

Councillor Lisa Osanic then spoke, saying she would not support the amendment.

“We need a date,” she said.

Councillor Chapelle then took the floor, speaking on looking for “creative solutions,” and noting that there are likely ideas for solutions that Council hasn’t even heard of yet. He also suggested Centre 70 as a possible location for homeless residents to have access to showers, etc. during the cooler months, providing that junior hockey didn’t start up again.

Mayor Paterson then took the opportunity to ask Staff if a deadline helped in terms of the work they are trying to get done to address the situation. CAO Hurdle responded that the previous deadline had helped to see partners come together and work together.

“It has helped with some of these initiatives,” she said.

Paterson spoke in support of the original motion, noting that “we rarely work with ideal solutions,” but rather “the best possible solutions for now.”

Councillor Gary Oosterhof then spoke to the amendment, admitting first that he appreciated the discussion taking place as he was personally struggling to decide whether or not he supported the amendment.

“I just think that July 31 is going to be here in a minute,” he said.

Councillor Wayne Hill took the floor saying he couldn’t support the amendment, noting that Council was “diminishing the critical nature of this matter if we don’t have a deadline.”

Hutchison, who moved the original motion and represents the district where Belle Park is situated, addressed the amendment,

“I believe the tension of a deadline is necessary,” he said “The weather is not going to solve this.”

He also noted that extending the deadline doesn’t do anything for those property owners in the area who are currently complaining about the encampment.

Stroud, having motioned for the amendment, then spoke to it again, clarifying that he picked the winter date because of the natural end that may come to the encampment as a result. He said that Council had a consensus that a deadline is needed, and noted that he believes residents at Belle Park will relocate on their own with the supports the City and partnering agencies can provide. He also noted that a deadline triggers those who are experiencing anxiety, or who have experienced trauma in the past.

“Let the real reason campers choose to relocate be their own because of the weather,” he said.

Council then voted on the amendment, which lost by a vote of 5 to 7.

As Council moved back to addressing the original motion, another motion to amend was tabled, this time moved by Councillor Holland and seconded by Councillor Kiley to remove the deadline wording and replace it with “when interim housing goals, determined in consultation with the campers, have been met.”

Councillor Boehme spoke up in support of the original motion, and Councillor Hutchison as the district councillor, noting that Hutchison is likely the most informed on both sides with regard to this matter.

“What if it doesn’t naturally end” he posed, noting that the campers don’t have to accept the housing options offered to them.

Councillor Neill then spoke in support of the amendment, stating that council “needs to encourage the residents.” He then brought up something that hadn’t been considered: Neill asked City Staff how many times this matter could be reconsidered. Staff responded that an item can only be reconsidered twice in one year, and that, after this reconsideration, the matter could not be reconsidered until June of 2021.

Paterson then asked CAO Hurdle for some feedback about this, and asked about the implications of this amendment in terms of enforcement. Hurdle explained that the City would not enforce the bylaw until the campers had found their own solutions with the support of partnering agencies. Paterson then said he appreciated the intent of the amendment, but said it might not work as intended, and that he still supported the original motion.

Councillor Osanic agreed, stating again that there needs to be a deadline, and noting she would not support the amendment.

The seconder of the amendment, Councillor Kiley, said that the homeless encampment “is intrinsically urgent,” noting that the amendment tried to find a way to put residents first and foremost.

“The solutions we thought would work didn’t,” he said. “This is not about delaying, it’s about getting to the heart of the issue… what they actually need, not what we think they need.”

Hutchison then spoke, saying he did not support the amendment as it “gives up democratic responsibility.” He again noted that Council needs to take the whole community into account when considering this matter. He asked Staff how long it would take to build the appropriate supportive housing (approximately 40 units). CAO Hurdle responded that a current site the City is considering on Lower Union Street would take at least six months to get up and running. In terms of new construction, that timeline would look more like two to three years, she said.

“So we don’t have the solution,” Hutchison responded, noting that the definition of a forced eviction includes wording regarding the reasonable demands of those who might face said eviction.

“It doesn’t seem to me their demands are reasonable. They change,” he said of what the campers at Belle Park have expressed as their needs. He also noted that, with the amendment, the encampment would have to be allowed to remain until June of next year.

Councillor Wayne Hill expressed that he could not support the amendment, and the floor was returned to Councillor Holland for final word, as she had motioned for the amendment. She said that she was not suggesting the encampment be indefinite, and stated that Council needs more clarity on what short term solutions will look like.

Council then voted on the amendment, which lost in a vote of 5 to 8.

Holland then took the opportunity to speak again, imploring those who have taken up the cause of the encampment at Belle Park to contact their MP and MPP.

“We need to feel the urgency that we haven’t done enough. We can’t do this alone. We can’t expect to use taxpayer dollars… to address this,” she said. “Please put some pressure on the other levels of government.”

Mayor Paterson then spoke, only to say “I wholeheartedly agree with everything Councillor Holland has just said.”

Councillor Doherty then motioned to amend the motion again, this time with a deadline of September 1, 2020. This prompted Councillor Hill to call a point of order.

“We can’t just keep substituting the date,” he said. And, although his point of order was rejected, other councillors agreed with his sentiments later on.

Doherty went on to explain that she chose September 1 because the cooling centre planned for Artillery Park would be open by then and available until the end of September.

“We need a date that is achievable… we are talking about people’s lives. We need a timeline that meets Councillor Hutchison’s concerns,” she said.

At that point, Councillor Hill motioned to call the question, which lost by a vote of 6 to 7.

Councillor Boehme said that Council was just picking dates at this time, and that he doesn’t think more time is better, again voicing his support of the original motion and the district councillor.

Neill spoke in support of the amendment, and Kiley spoke against the concept of a timeline altogether, asking Hurdle if the September 1 deadline would supply sufficient time for staff to address the matter. Hurdle responded that, for other options to be tabled, City Staff would need more time.

Councillor Oosterhof then spoke out in support of the amendment, calling it “a good compromise.” Paterson then spoke, stating that the same options would be available in September, and reiterating that he is concerned that residents in the area will become more upset with the extended deadline. In short, he said he did not support the amendment.

Council voted on the amendment, which lost in a vote of 6 to 7.

Finally back to the original motion, Councillor Stroud moved to separate the motion into two paragraphs, which Council would then vote on individually. Councillor Holland asked for clarification, asking if councillors voted against the first paragraph, would they technically be in support of the original extended deadline of Tuesday, July, 7, 2020 – the very date Council was discussing the matter. She was told, essentially, yes, that was the case at hand.

The first paragraph of the original motion, which included the July 31 deadline passed by a vote of 11 to 2 with Councillors Neill and Stroud opposed, and the second paragraph passed with a unanimous vote.

And with that, the deadline for the bylaw exemption for campers at Belle Park was extended to Friday, Jul. 31.

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