City of Kingston CAO Lanie Hurdle said an eviction notice issued to campers at Belle Park on Tuesday Jul. 28 was a mistake. The notice indicated campers had two hours to remove themselves and their property from the park.
“The intent today was to verbally ask campers that are on the contaminated land to relocate to the front of the park,” Hurdle explained. “Having said that, we recognize that Council’s approval is for the entire site (property) until the end of the day on July 31st.”
City of Kingston bylaw officers set off a flurry of activity and confusion at Belle Park around 10 a.m., when they delivered eviction notices to all occupants camping in the eastern, grassy section of the park, behind the fenced parking lot on Montreal St.
A bylaw exception renewed by City Council on Tuesday, Jul. 7 allows Kingston’s homeless to camp legally at Belle Park until Jul. 31, 2020, in response to a shortage of services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Citing garbage and illegal camping, the notices issued Tuesday morning ordered cessation of all activities “constituting or contributing to camping.” They indicated the necessary removal of personal items and possessions from Belle Park by 12 p.m. on Tuesday, Jul. 28.
“We were told we had two hours to pack up and if not, they were going to move us,” said camper Nancy Smith.
Smith said campers determined for themselves that no one in the parking lot had received notices, and that they were not being evicted en-masse.
She said the bylaw officer who spoke to her did not explain that she only needed to relocate to the other side of the fence. “They didn’t even mention that,” she said. “They never mentioned that at all.”
Smith said she and other campers were unwilling to move. “It’s so cramped up there. It’s just going to create more issues,” she said. “More arguing and fights and drama.” She also said the back lawn provided necessary shade during the heat wave.
In response to the confusion created by the eviction notice, community volunteers and supporters of the park residents began to arrive on site shortly after 11 a.m. City Councillor Jim Neill said he wanted to come and personally investigate after receiving multiple messages from constituents.
“My phone started blowing up about 30 minutes ago,” he said, noting that he had received four copies of the eviction notice.
A group of volunteers from Mutual Aid Katarokwi, who organized a rally in support of Belle Parks campers on Tuesday, Jul. 7, also arrived to help any campers who wanted to relocate do so.
At 12:41 p.m. Hurdle sent an email to City Councillors, staff and community advocates explaining the miscommunication.
“We are not relocating anyone and or any property. I apologize about this notice and messaging. The Bylaw team will be back on site today to clarify this with campers,” Hurdle said.
Bylaw did return to Belle Park around 1:30 p.m, and explained to campers that they would not be forcibly moved. The grassy land east of the parking lot is contaminated, they explained, and the City was recommending they move to the front of the park for their own health.
Chystal Wilson lives close to Belle Park and has established herself as an ally and advocate for the camp residents. “These kind of events destroy trust,” she said.
The camp has been in place since late April. The City is in the process of opening an integrated service hub with shelter, showers, food and social services at Artillery Park. Twenty-four hour services at the hub begin on July 31, with the intent to prevent any interruption in service or shelter after the bylaw expires.
City of Kingston officials have stated repeatedly that they will not forcefully evict Belle Park’s homeless campers, but rather assist them to transition to other locations.
“We have an agreement until the 31st,” Wilson said, “but we also have an agreement based on the drop-in centre being open, and it’s not open. [The city] is causing stress for no reason.”