The City of Kingston is working to find alternative solutions for the homeless camp at Belle Park soon, according to Robert Hosier, Communications Officer for the City of Kingston.
Hosier said the City has not determined a maximum number of occupants for the site, where a group of Kingston’s homeless population have been converging for over three weeks.
“As Belle Park is a very temporary solution and we will be announcing our next steps soon, we don’t expect to have concerns about capacities,” he said.
Meanwhile Hosier says that the City is working closely with Public Health and bylaw officers to monitor health and safety at the site.
“Belle Park was recommended as an alternative to [other unauthorized camps at] Confederation Park and the City Hall area,” Hosier said, “as it could provide the small group a larger area to physically distance while the community plans for safe and sustainable long-term housing options.”
“Additionally,” he said “there were portable washrooms installed there many weeks previously, so it provided better access to these facilities for the individuals in transition.”
While the city’s partners are making regular visits to the park to offer support and services in the immediate term, he says the ultimate goal is to seek safe and sustainable housing.
Tom Greening is Director of Home Base Housing, whose Street Outreach Team makes regular visits to the camp.
“Out Street Outreach staff are at Belle Park twice daily and have a very good sense of who is there and what people are needing,” he said.
“We do not set rules for where people can or cannot camp. That is up to the City,” he continued. “Our first and preferred suggestion is that we help people find inexpensive rooms and apartments followed by trying to see if people will look at going to one of the shelters.”
In response to COVID-19 Public Health requirements, shelter clients must commit to a 14-day self-isolation period once they check-in.
“Self-isolation means staying in their rooms, which are like motel rooms with self-contained washrooms,” Greening said. “All meals are provided. People go outside regularly through the day. We provide transportation if clients need to go elsewhere — doctors appointments, bank, etc. We are aware however that some clients find this difficult to manage.”
When asked about a connection between COVID-19 social distancing measures and the number of people camping throughout the city, Hosier echoed earlier statements from Greening that the two are not necessarily connected.
“We are struggling with correlating the tent camps with the pandemic,” he said. “We have ample shelter space available to accommodate this camp, community partners ready to step in and an expanded list of supports not typically available in non-pandemic times. We understand these individuals choose not to accept shelter alternatives because of physical distancing and other rules. We attribute the tent camps more to the warming weather.”
Finally, Hosier spoke to the amicable arrangement for the time being.
“We have been very appreciative of the collaboration, cooperation and courtesy these individuals have shown City and agency workers,” Hosier said. “We are still working hard with our community partners to find solutions that will lead to a safe and sustainable housing situation for these folks.”
Update (Monday, May 25, 2020): After this article was published, the City of Kingston sent out the following information in a press release.
“Through Street Outreach and Addictions and Mental Health Services, we have learned more about the specific needs of individual campers and have developed a plan to accommodate as many needs as possible,” says Lanie Hurdle, the City’s CAO. She notes that Belle Park is located on an old landfill site and is not suitable for camping. Camping is not a permitted activity in any city park. Staff will work on transitioning the people currently camping out of parks by June 5, at which time the City will no longer allow any camping in city parks.
Here are the main components of the City’s plans, developed in collaboration with community partners:
* Continuing to offer shelter: Campers will continue to be offered individual rooms at existing shelters, which have the capacity to accommodate them and have been underused.
* Continuing to provide day services – Drop-in services will continue to be offered at In From the Cold Shelter where amenities such as showers and laundry facilities can be accessed on an as-needed basis.
* Working to establish counselling services: With support of key community partners, the City is working to establish a drop-in counselling service for people who require such support.
* Relocating to suitable campgrounds: Once the Province lifts restrictions on campgrounds, the City will work with local campgrounds to provide people with the opportunity to camp for the season at a location that provides washrooms, showers and potable water. They will be provided with proper tents, sleeping bags and other equipment if required. There will also be ongoing support services made available.
Additionally, Due to the limited number of COVID-19 cases in the Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington region, the City is shifting its self-isolation spaces and will relocate the Kingston Self-Isolation Centre at the end of May where services will continue to be offered, the City said.
Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community.
This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.