According to advocates at Mutual Aid Katarokwi-Kingston (MAKK), City of Kingston bylaw officials are set to move ahead this week with the evictions of encampments at Belle Park and the Integrated Care Hub (ICH).
“On Thurs. May 5, , City of Kingston bylaw officials told people who are unhoused and living in Belle Park and behind the Integrated Care Hub to expect evictions with bulldozers next week,” the grassroots citizen support organization says in a press release. This news comes amid growing rates of homeless in Kingston, as shelters and other services struggle to meet the demand for housing throughout the city. As per the City’s Encampment Protocol, which was adopted last year, officials need to provide those residing at parks and encampments with 48-hours notice before evictions may commence.
According to MAKK, residents were notified of pending evictions last Thursda. As of Tuesday morning, advocates and residents remain unsure as to when the evictions will take place.
“The timeline is still super uncertain, which is unfortunate [because] uncertainty is hard to live with. Yet, these [evictions] have been threatened and residents behind the care hub and Belle Park have been living with that,” says Jeremy Milloy, a representative from MAKK.
“People have been showing up to offer support and people have been asking questions. But, as of yet, we don’t really have any clarity. My knowledge this morning is that they have not yet taken place, and we don’t know what’s next.”
Advocates argue that the encampments provide safety and shelter for the city’s unhoused population, at a time when Kingston is experiencing deaths from drug overdoses and the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, Kingston saw seven drug-related deaths in just 13 days, according to MAKK. Should the evictions proceed, the advocates suggest that such a move could drive residents further away from access to vital services.
“We’re experiencing a very severe wave of the drug poisoning crisis, so again, I do not know why it would be a good time to evict people from where they are living in a relatively stable situation if there were no alternatives available, and we certainly know that those alternatives have not been presented to people,” Milloy shares.
According to the encampment protocol, the City’s aim is to, “assist people camping in public spaces to access safer and healthier alternatives to living outside, including housing, support services and shelter.” Individuals who refuse to accept the City’s services will be subject to, “the enforcement of City by-laws prohibiting camping in public places and erecting structures.”
While the City uses the protocol to reiterate its commitment to provide residents with access to shelter and other support services, the document also suggests that evictions may be a result of the impact such encampments have on the public’s access to spaces like Belle Park. “The protocol also provides a balance between the provision of supports to vulnerable populations camping in public spaces with the City’s desire to maintain access and use of public spaces,” the City document reads.
However, according to MAKK, those currently residing at Belle Park and behind the ICH are not preventing members of the public from accessing things like trails or other amenities. “Their uses coexist with other uses. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason to evict them and many reasons for them to stay,” the press release states.
The encampments at Belle Park and behind the Care Hub first appeared back in 2020, at the start of the pandemic. While the City of Kingston initially allowed the shelters to stay in place throughout the spring and summer, officials moved to clear the site in September 2020. With the economic and social impacts of the pandemic continuing to be felt by vulnerable persons and communities, unhoused individuals continue to face many obstacles in their search for access to shelter, according to housing and social support advocates.
While the initial Belle Park encampment led to some “positive outcomes,” Milloy says that meaningful action from the City is still lacking. “So, we have an ICH, great. We have people with lived experience of homelessness on committees to discuss these issues, that’s a step forward. Still, at this point, in the absence of meaningful housing solutions, the City is still proceeding with an enforcement and punishment approach to homelessness, still threatening people to bulldoze their homes. I’m kind of stunned that we’re still at this point and haven’t made more progress,” he expresses.
Milloy also says that people residing at the encampments were not provided with any alternative solutions from by-law officials. “According to people who were there, who have been threatened with eviction, they were not offered any alternative housing or any kind of permanent solution… These evictions are, in [our] view, dangerous and irresponsible, because there are no permanent solutions or even good short-term solutions for these folks. It’s a real open question as to what the City hopes it can accomplish from doing this.”
In terms of an official statement from the City, Kingstonist was provided with the following response:
“City staff and community partners are currently assessing the situation with KFL&A Public Health. Street Outreach continues to check on individuals experiencing homelessness throughout the community and we will provide an update as soon as one is available.”
Further requests for comment did not receive a response by the time of publication.
This is not the first instance in which the City has moved to break up encampments on public land. Back in November, officials cut power at the Memorial Centre after several residents sought shelter inside the centre’s barns. At the time, the City cited health and safety risks when they posted trespass notices, prohibiting sheltering on the site.
With the news of the City’s latest round of encampment evictions breaking over the weekend, advocates are calling on Kingston residents to voice their concerns in the hopes that members of City Council will take note. “First and foremost, we hope that the people there aren’t evicted. That’s today’s situation. So we hope people will call, in solidarity with their unhoused neighbours, to request that their lives not be needlessly disrupted,” Milloy says.
While the organization’s top priority is to put a stop to this latest round of evictions, Milloy hopes that the City can provide more permanent solutions to address the homelessness crisis. “I know these issues are difficult, I know these issues are complicated, but housing is a human right, and we need to do better, so we need to start thinking about people not as problems and not as something we would rather not face,” he says. “We need to look at them as our neighbours who are in need of housing, are in need of better solutions than are being provided. We need to think about, as a community, what we need to be doing to get there.”
This is a developing story. Kingstonist will provide updates as more information becomes available.