The City of Kingston’s senior manager, CAO Lanie Hurdle, said she wants to directly address the public’s questions following the removal of a settlement in Belle Park on Tuesday.
“There have been a number of questions brought up in news reports and on
social media about the end of the Belle Park encampment,” Hurdle said. “I would like to clarify some key points.”
Hurdle said that the welfare of vulnerable Kingstonians, and meeting their complex needs, remains a top priority. “This is an admittedly sensitive situation we are committed to addressing together with our community partners,” she said.
‘Directions from Council’ determined enforcement
Hurdle said City of Kingston staff removed peoples’ tents and belongings from Belle Park on Tuesday, Sep 1, 2020 under the direction of City Council. “At its July 7th meeting, Council unanimously supported a resolution to end camping permissions at Belle Park after July 31,” Hurdle said.
Hurdle said that City staff provided an additional month-long transition period after that deadline for people to relocate.
“Although it is unusual for City staff to take so long to implement a Council direction and address a bylaw contravention, staff believed that it was the best approach to provide people with a more gradual transition, and aligned with the intent of the motion,” she said.
The motion, passed on Tuesday, July 7, also directed City staff to provide notice of relocation as soon as reasonably possible to the resident campers, as well as a firm deadline date to campers and the neighbourhood alike.
However residents at the camp – as well as City Councillors – appeared to be caught off guard when Kingston Police and City staff arrived Tuesday to enforce the eviction.
City staff had previously issued eviction notices to the residents in Belle Park, on Tuesday, Jul. 28. Those were rescinded, and described as an error only hours after being issued. Following that confusion, Hurdle said she would personally attend the park the next week to speak with residents. While she did not, she said other City staff had gone.
The process of enforcement
On the day of enforcement, Hurdle said that public access was only restricted to the parking lot, and that other areas and trails remained accessible to the public. City Councillor and Deputy Neill described being denied access to the park by Kingston Police in an open letter to the Mayor, however Neill was trying to access the camping area.
“Access to the parking lot area of Belle Park was closed by Kingston Police as staff had requested their presence for the safety of the people camping there, the public, City staff and assisting partners, as multiple trucks and heavy equipment were in use,” Hurdle said. “This allowed City staff and partner agencies to work directly with the remaining individuals to sort out their belongings with a modicum of privacy.”
“During the final day of transition, community partners made every effort to account for and locate all individuals who had been at Belle Park. Some were able to stay with families and friends, while others were offered support services at the Integrated Care Hub and shelters,” Hurdle said.
Council heard at their meeting on Tuesday, Sep. 1, 2020, following the enforcement, that the sleeping area at the Integrated Care Hub had been at capacity for twelve consecutive nights.
Removal and storage of personal items
Hurdle said the City worked with approximately ten people left at Belle Park and has provided secure storage for personal items. “Belongings have been documented, tagged and placed in individual lots in storage. Individuals who would like to retrieve their items have received information on how and who to connect with at the City to make an appointment to pick up their items,” she said.
“The individuals themselves assisted staff in identifying items that could be disposed of, and these were taken to the City Yard for eventual disposal,” she added. Hurdle said some items were not easily identifiable, so they were moved to storage in case someone seeks to claim them.
“There have been many lessons learned throughout this challenging situation,” Hurdle said. “It has tightened the relationships amongst all those who serve this community. We are undertaking a Homelessness Service Review that will capitalize on these strengthened partnerships to address gaps.”