City Council to debate encampment pilot project

Amid mounting uncertainty surrounding the future of encampments at Belle Park and the Integrated Care Hub (ICH), Kingston City Council is set to hold a special meeting this evening to discuss a motion that would allow the encampments to remain for six months.

Whether or not to allow encampments to remain in Belle Park and at the Integrated Care Hub will be the topic of discussion at a Special Meeting of Kingston City Council on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Photo illustration by Tori Stafford. Original photo of Kingston City Hall by Lucas Mulder. Original photo of signage at a local encampment via Mutal Aid Katarokwi Kingston.

Following reports this week suggesting that bylaw officials with the City of Kingston were set to carry out evictions at the Belle Park and ICH encampments, City officials clarified their position on the matter yesterday, saying that reports of pending evictions are “false.” 

“City staff have not issued any notices to anyone in the encampments,” said City of Kingston CAO Lanie Hurdle. Instead, Hurdle said, the City’s focus is currently on whether to move away from a current pause on its encampment protocol, with conversations ongoing between the City and its partners.

The protocol, which was introduced last year, establishes a clear framework to remove encampments from public land “after support efforts have been attempted without success.” Such measures were put on hold in November at the start of the Omicron wave and have not yet been lifted, Hurdle said. 

“Staff had to put a pause on the protocol in November of 2021 based on Public Health recommendations, due to the wide spread of the [COVID-19] Omicron wave,” she said. “We left it in place because Public Health was concerned that, if people were moving around, it would lead to higher transmission of Omicron in the homeless population. So, in order to try to stabilize the population and allow Public Health to be able to monitor the situation, we did put a pause on the Council-approved encampment protocol.”

“Now that the Omicron phase has changed, and we’ve been working with Public Health to [monitor] the situation, the risk is not what it used to be when [we] were in the height of the last wave,” Hurdle surmised.

Should City staff get the go-ahead to lift the suspension of the encampment protocol, evictions at sites like Belle Park and behind the ICH could take place, but no directive had been given as of Wednesday, May 11, 2022. “Now, maybe partners have talked to people in encampments, I don’t know — they should be the ones answering those questions. But City staff have not issued any notices,” stated Hurdle.  

While the City upholds that no formal notices have been issued, representatives from Mutual Aid Katarowki-Kingston (MAKK) stood by their claim that bylaw officials with the City of Kingston were at the site last week and mentioned the possibility of evictions. “To reiterate, MAKK has not claimed that people were issued official eviction notices, but that bylaw [officials] told more than one resident that they were going to evict this week,” MAKK representative Jeremy Milloy said in an email. 

When asked to clarify whether any officials were at the site informing residents of potential evictions, the City issued the following comment: “City of Kingston By-Law Enforcement has confirmed that none of their team verbally stated that Trespass Orders/Eviction Notices were to be issued,” said Robert Hosier, Communications Officer for the City of Kingston, in an email to Kingstonist.

While conversations between City staff and community partners are ongoing as to when the official encampment protocol pause should be lifted, City Council is set to debate a motion this evening which would put a halt to any evictions at Belle Park and the ICH for six months.

According to a Twitter thread by Sydenham District Councillor Peter Stroud, he will introduce a motion, seconded by Councillor Gary Oosterhof, calling on the City to establish “a suitable location, in Belle Park & in close walking distance to the ICH, that could allow for a six-month pilot of a temporary encampment of sufficient size for enough campsites for those seeking this type of temporary shelter.”

The pilot project would allow the encampments to remain in place throughout the spring and summer, while staff prepare a list of recommendations to Council on the ways the City can better address the needs of Kingston’s unhoused population. That report is to be presented “by the end of [the third quarter of] 2022, before the end of the pilot.”

Should the motion pass, it would mark the second time in three years that City Council has directly permitted encampments at Belle Park. In the spring of 2020, just months into the COVID-19 pandemic, tents and other shelters began popping up on the site of the former public golf course, as Kingston’s unhoused population was hit hard by the social and economic conditions created by the pandemic. That year, City staff allowed the encampments to remain for several months before residents were officially evicted in September.  

Councillor Stroud’s motion, which will be debated tonight, also calls on staff to establish, “a set of very simple regulations to be posted at the perimeter of this identified area, that are reasonable, and allow for the safe & tidy use of this area for all. These are to be followed, in exchange for the use of the land.” 

The motion also takes into account the encampment’s proximity to vital services, as Stroud acknowledged the importance of sites like the Integrated Care Hub, which ensure that, “overall harm is greatly reduced.” This notion was echoed by Christine Riddick, a Public Health Promoter with KFL&A Public Health, who suggested that such spaces play a key role in harm reduction among unhoused populations.

“We want to make these services as accessible as possible. So, I think the fact that you have the ICH and so many people are in camping around it, I think that just speaks to the valuable service that they have and the compassion and respect that they provide clients,” said Riddick. “I think just the evidence that they can get close to that spot just shows how important those harm reduction services are [for] that vulnerable population.”

If Thursday’s motion is successful, CAO Hurdle said that staff are ready to move on whatever Council decides. “Staff will implement what Council is looking for… There would be some cost because there would have to be some portable amenities, garbage containers, all of those things… So, if Council would like to establish that kind of encampment, we can definitely do that, from a staff perspective. We would follow their direction. But we would also make sure that we advised them [to] look at costs and any other health or environmental related concerns, and then they can definitely make the decision.”

Stroud’s motion is one of two new motions being put before Council tonight, with the other also dealing specifically with the possibly pending eviction of the encampments. Councillor Jim Neill will bring forth a motion seeking the postponement of those evictions.

“Whereas there are a number of homeless Kingston residents now camping behind the Integrated Care Hub who are now at risk of eviction with no apparent alternative, and

Whereas this is a safe space given its proximity to the Integrated Care Hub;

Therefore Be It Resolved That the current plans for eviction be postponed until there is a clear alternative to find a more permanent and safe housing option for these campers, to be shared with Council,” the motion reads.

Although City of Kingston staff maintain that no one with the City has communicated pending evictions to those living in the encampments, and that an already-existing pause on the City’s Encampment Protocol would prevent such evictions, both Stroud and Neill specifically refer to these evictions imminently within their motions – Stroud’s motion mentions that, “vulnerable individuals have been advised by City workers that their eviction from Belle Park is imminent,” while Neill’s motion cites “the current plans for eviction.”

The full agenda and links to watch the Special Council Meeting tonight, Thursday, May 12, 2022, beginning at 7:30 p.m. can be found on the City of Kingston website.

This is a developing story. Kingstonist will provide updates as more information becomes available.

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