The following is a letter to the editor. The views and opinions expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.
While 200 people gathered in Belle Park on the evening of Tuesday, July 7, 2020 with music and speeches in support of the rights of Belle Park residents to remain in the tent encampment, councillors of City Council debated their eviction late into the night.
Kingston City Council had an opportunity to stand up for the most marginalized residents of our community, and to show what kind of a City we want to be. Unfortunately, however, in a tie broken by Mayor Bryan Paterson, Council did not stand behind people experiencing homelessness. Instead, City Council voted to allow camping in Belle Park only to the end of July, and only because this is the time it will take to finalize plans for a cooling center at Artillery Park, ensuring a short, 10 day transitional period.
For those of us who have been supporting Belle Park residents, the outcome of this vote was profoundly disappointing. This short extension was not a win for people experiencing homelessness. The move to remove services and to eventually evict people from Belle Park at the end of July will still have profoundly negative health and social implications.
In a previous letter to the editor, we outlined the positive and negative impacts of the current Belle Park situation. We identified the stress and anxiety provoked by repeated deadlines and threats of eviction. We identified some of the strengths that the situation at Belle Park has allowed to emerge – community, agency, physical and emotional safety, and self-determination. We called on the City to endorse the UN Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada by exploring all viable alternatives to eviction.
We would like to thank Councillors Doherty, Holland, Stroud and Neill, who were most active in advocating for a meaningful extension to the encampment at Belle Park for an indefinite, or at least substantive, suspension of evictions. While the initial proposal for December 31st did not have the philosophical impact of a permanent extension, it would nevertheless have provided a meaningful timeline for better alternatives to be identified. Other efforts such as an extension to September 1st or an extension without a date, but with meaningful outcomes as measures of success were proposed and supported by the Councillors Stroud, Holland, Doherty, Neill, Oosterhof and Kiley.
Ultimately, any extension beyond July 31st was voted down by the remaining six Councillors, McLaren, Osanic, Hill, Chapelle, Boehme, and Hutchison. While Mayor Paterson could have broken the tie in favour of the residents of Belle Park, he chose to vote the other way, thereby affirming that campers are to vacate Belle Park on or immediately after July 31st. At that time the City will begin removing services such as toilets, running water and electricity, and potentially garbage removal, core to maintaining a healthy and secure environment. They will also have the option to bring in by-law officers or police to evict campers who choose to remain, thereby triggering the uncertainty and stress caused by constant threat of relocation.
Already the negative impact of this decision has been felt by campers, who continue to articulate their desire to remain at Belle Park until meaningful housing solutions are found. It is noteworthy that, while Kingston has voted to close down its tent encampment, both London and Kitchener have voted to allow meaningful extensions of the tent encampments that have emerged in those cities during the pandemic, citing health risks of dismantling the camps as well as improved safety for residents in these encampments (see https://www.therecord.com/news/waterloo-region/2020/07/06/kitchener-to-allowtent-city-site-to-stay-for-up-to-a-year.html and https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/londonontario-homeless-encampments-1.5607967).
We are disappointed in the City Councillors who lacked the creativity, good will, and rights-based approach to see the importance of suspending evictions at Belle Park, not only for the physical, social and mental health of the Belle Park residents, but also in recognition of the broad community support around this issue and for the demonstration of good will and solidarity with marginalized community members. We have understood the message that this Council has sent around their own priorities with respect to the health and well-being of people experiencing homelessness in Kingston. We continue to stand with Belle Park residents, as well as the community organizations and service agencies, such as Street Health and HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS), who have been working hard on meaningful engagement with residents around their needs. We will continue to advocate for a City that recognizes and supports the rights of its most marginalized members.
Dr. Eva Purkey, Department of Family Medicine, Queen’s University
Dr. Susan Bartels, Department of Emergency Medicine, Queen’s University
Dr. Nazik Hammad, Department of Oncology, Queen’s University
Dr. Imaan Bayoumi, Department of Family Medicine, Queen’s University
Dr. Rupa Patel, Kingston Community Health Centres
Dr. Susan Phillips, Department of Family Medicine, Queen’s University
Dr. Rosemary Wilson, School of Nursing, Queen’s University
Dr. Julia Milden, PGY-1 Department of Internal Medicine, Queen’s University
Dr. Louise Good, Substance Treatment and Rehabilitation Team, Kingston
Dr. Amrita Roy, Department of Family Medicine, Queen’s University
Dr. Meghan Wilson, Department of Family Medicine, Queen’s University
Dr. Irene Zouros, Substance Treatment and Rehabilitation Team, Kingston