Opinion in solidarity with Belle Park encampment: Who is permitted to live safely and peacefully?

Kingston’s Integrated Care Hub (ICH) and the encampment in Belle Park, pictured here in October 2023. Image via Google Maps Street View.

Editor’s note: The following is a submitted op/ed expressing solidarity with those living in the encampment at Belle Park and those who use the services of Kingston’s Integrated Care Hub. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.

Starting April 2nd, the city of Kingston plans to begin enforcing a “daytime sheltering prohibition”.

While the City maintains that these are not evictions, numerous encampment residents, community members and volunteers at the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) have indicated otherwise. As members of Health Providers Against Poverty (HPAP) Kingston, we are alarmed by the City’s continued, organized attempts to remove the encampment without providing safe and community-informed alternatives to residents: in 2021, 2023, and recently this March 2024.

In solidarity with encampment residents and Integrated Care Hub (ICH) service users, we urgently call on the City of Kingston to prioritize the health and safety of encampment residents, to end the implementation of the daytime bans, and to work with all community members on policy decisions.

We ask the city of Kingston:

  1. To prioritize the safety of both encampment residents and ICH neighbours

A recent Kingston news article describes the experiences of neighbours to the Intergrated Care Hub, and their concerns about encampment residents. We recognize that neighbours have been experiencing fear, frustration, and uncertainty. We also note their emphasis on the City’s inaction, lack of communication, and delayed responses to resident requests. Ultimately, the article invites us to have compassion for the neighbours’ hypervigilance and hopelessness, and yet portrays nearby encampment residents, who themselves live with hopelessness and hypervigilance, as “disgusting”, dangerous and violent.

We would like to address these conversations about violence surrounding encampment residents. Particularly: how does violence manifest, and which Kingston communities are most impacted by violence? Currently, the City and local media outlets continue to characterize encampment residents and ICH service users as violent threats to the safety and well-being of community neighbours. As healthcare providers, we reaffirm that people who are unhoused or experiencing homelessness, who are unemployed, and/or who use substances or harm reduction services are not inherently violent. We remind the City that, to the contrary, people who are unhoused statistically face higher rates of violence than folks who are housed. Furthermore, is it not violent to evict people from their living spaces, day after day? Is it not violent to remove their belongings without their permission, or sum up their acceptability in public with a ‘red traffic light’? Is it not violent to alienate individuals from their communities, resources and services? We maintain that both encampment residents and community neighbours continue to experience violence as a result of the City’s approach to the current housing and affordability crisis.

  1. To end the implementation of the daytime camping bans, from a human and housing rights perspective.

As outlined above, this is not the first, second, nor third time the City’s policies have threatened the safety and well-being of encampment residents. In 2023, the Ontario Superior Court denied the City’s application for an injunction to clear the Belle Park encampment. Following this, a letter from the Kingston Community Legal Clinic suggested the City seek another mandate and a second injunction prior to moving forward with the daytime encampment bans. The Federal Housing Advocate’s recent report on encampments recommends municipal governments eliminate “any policies or practices that… require daytime tear down of tents and removal of personal effects.” The UN special rapporteur includes “temporary removal against their will” in their definition of forced evictions. When will the City recognize and uphold the housing rights of encampment residents and ICH service users?

  1. To work with encampment residents and health and social service providers, for present and future policy decisions.

The daytime encampment bans impact, first and foremost, every encampment resident and ICH service user. While the City claims the bans are not evictions, encampment residents are responding with their concerns. Encampment resident Kirk Sabiston asks, “How can you say it’s not an eviction when I have to leave every day? Can you imagine having to pack up your house and move it every day?” We remind the City that they must centre and prioritize the encampment resident perspectives in any and all decisions that directly impact them. To do anything less contributes to the dehumanization of encampment residents.

The health and social service providers working as frontline staff near the encampment provide crucial services to the encampment residents. When the City enforces bans that require residents to stay further away from the ICH, frontline staff are left to address the resulting barriers to care. When separated from the ICH, service users are increasingly vulnerable to mistreatment, discrimination, indignity, and inaccessible resources. This is harmful to encampment residents, and renders the work of frontline staff near impossible. Amidst growing concerns about frontline worker burnout, the City should be including health and social service perspectives when making public policy decisions. What would it look like if City representatives made decisions about the community’s well-being in collaboration with the people doing that work and the people receiving those services?

We also urge the City to implement and fund best practices while working towards sustainable and ethical solutions to the current housing crisis. Transitional housing solutions have become ubiquitous locally in recent years. While affordable, transitional housing exempts residents from their rights under the Residential Tenancies Act, leaving them in a constant state of housing precarity, permanent housing with supports is a solution which is consistent with both the evidence supported Housing-First model as well as the Federal Housing Advocate’s review of homeless encampments. Where municipal funding for permanent supportive housing is insufficient, provincial and federal funding must be sought.

What will it take to change course and halt the daytime bans that are being presented as legitimate solutions to a housing crisis? There are opportunities to encourage community cohesion, rather than reinforce harmful stereotypes and biases towards encampment residents. There are opportunities to pursue evidence-supported solutions like permanent supportive housing, instead of transitional housing. We call on the City of Kingston and public policy officials to recognize and uphold safety for all encampment residents, to immediately cease any implementation of daytime camping bans, and to engage collaboratively and respectfully with encampment residents, service providers, and neighbours.

Health Providers Against Poverty Kingston

Share your views! Submit a Letter to the Editor or an Op/Ed article to Kingstonist’s Editor-in-Chief Tori Stafford at [email protected].

4 thoughts on “Opinion in solidarity with Belle Park encampment: Who is permitted to live safely and peacefully?

  • I keep hearing the city telling the unhoused what they CAN’T do but I don’t hear the City saying much about what these PEOPLE (who are our fellow citizens CAN do!
    ie. need to pack up and leave during the day but not given option of what to do where to go.
    – don’t be on these streets ie. Princess St., shopping malls etc.
    – shelters not open during day

    Is the City not just causing another problem by forcing these people to find a place to hang out during the day!!! This is their home right now until there is a better solution, perhaps where they will not be accepted, as many of you are already thinking and I am going to put it in writing – it will become another “Not in my backyard issue.” Police will have nuisance calls as these citizens will need a place to go and hang out during the day. Looking for shade in the hot days of summer & relief of other personal needs if we take away their homes, where else do they go? I believe the city is covering their butt and store owners’ butts. What about the everyday citizens’ homes and apartment buildings? I believe ALL KINGSTONIANS should be venting their concerns regarding this situation now before we see the aftereffects of this, speak out to your councillors for everyone’s sake! I ask the City to reconsider until we can find a better solution for all Kingstonians!

  • I do not see a solution mentioned here.
    The “housing” mentioned is the tent and home made structures in Belle Park? The ones that have been proven dangerous to residents using them and first responders ? Maintain this status quo?
    Not a solution.

    Let’s try to keep everyone safe.
    Including local resident taxpayers

  • I grew up in Kingston, moving away in 1988 for university, and I have visited occasionally since then. I still remember the first time I met a homeless person, back in the early eighties down on Brock Street near the parking garage. He was a beaten-up man in a torn overcoat begging my brother and I for spare change that we kids didn’t have. It was a strange experience because, back in the day, you just didn’t come across homeless people in Kingston. Sure, there were a few ‘crazies’ and eccentrics in and around town (remember Andre, folks?) but they were harmless background characters and barely a cause for concern.

    Now when I visit I have to run a gauntlet of beggars and even drug addicts nodding out in broad daylight on Princess Street. I can not stress enough how weird it has been watching the transformation over the decades of the city I grew up in, and yet a version of this is happening in every city across Ontario, and throughout Canada and the U.S.

    No one should be encouraging the development of favelas in local parks, but there needs to be a permanent solution. We are only now realising the harm inflicted when the provincial and federal levels of government stopped building public housing in the mid nineties, along with cutting other services to justify tax breaks for the wealthy; it’s going to take decades to catch up, assuming we even try. We are long past the time to debate whether we need a true UBI program to equalise the lot of Canadians, and to stop trying to financialise the most basic of services including housing, medical care and food.

    Give the homeless people a place to be and a reason to be, and means to care for themselves, and a lot of the mental illness, crime and drug use we see running rampant in our communities will subside. It won’t all go away, of course, but it will become manageable condition rather than a chronic one. This is a problem we’re not going to police and prosecute our way out of, and yet I do feel like we’re bound to keep trying to do so rather than face the true inequalities that led us to this point: where homelessness now seems as natural and inevitable as the fall of rain.

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