City of Kingston appealing to Ontario Superior Court to remove Belle Park encampment

Belle Park, located off Montreal Street in the city’s inner harbour, has been the site of encampments for multiple years, something the City of Kingston now aims to address through the Ontario Superior Court. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

The City of Kingston announced today, Thursday, Jun. 1, 2023, that it is applying to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for an order to remove the encampment at Belle Park.

In a press release, the City stated that the move is happening “at the direction of Kingston City Council.” In response to Kingstonist inquiries, the City relayed that that “direction” stems from the January 10, 2023, meeting of Council, where “City Council directed staff to undertake all necessary steps, including commencing any required Court applications, to ensure that the encampment was removed after March 21, 2023.” (January 10, 2023, City Council meeting minutes are available here.)

In the press release announcing the appeal to the Ontario Superior Court (which in January denied the Regional Municipality of Waterloo’s request to remove a homeless encampment on the basis that doing so when there is no adequate indoor space would violate the residents’ Charter rights), the City of Kingston noted that trespass notices were issued in March 2023 but that the City has not forcibly removed anyone. The City is “instead… focusing on a peaceful transition,” according to the press release.

“We have worked with our community partners to offer several low-barrier shelter options and [have] strongly encouraged people remaining in the area to take advantage of these services, including drop-in shelters, free transportation, and safe storage of belongings. Since issuing the trespass notices, most individuals in the encampment were safely relocated with access to appropriate services and supports,” the City’s release said.

According to the release, the City remains committed to addressing homelessness and the mental health and addictions crisis in Kingston. “The safety of all our residents is our top priority, taking into consideration the complexity of needs for all those involved. There have been serious incidents occurring at the encampment, which pose health and safety concerns for the remaining encampment residents, service providers, and surrounding neighbours.”

The City noted that Kingston offers low-barrier shelter options to accommodate different needs, including couples, women-only, and people with pets, as well as a wide range of support services. A low-barrier shelter generally means requirements for entry are minimal for the people who wish to stay there. According to the release, there is capacity to accommodate those individuals remaining in the encampment, but some have declined offers of shelter and support. The City is seeking guidance from the Court to address this situation.

While scattered belongings and makeshift tents could be seen within the wooded area of Belle Park, signs of the previous, larger encampment were not visible on Thursday, Jun. 1, 2023. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

In response to further Kingstonist inquiries, the City said that the move to appeal to the Superior Court comes after “the City’s Legal Services Department has been working with the Kingston Community Legal Clinic, which represents a number of the encampment residents” over the last “several” months, and that the City’s legal team “has notified the Clinic of its intention to file a Court application.”

“In lieu of forcibly removing individuals from the encampment, the City is seeking the assistance of the Court,” the City of Kingston said in a statement.

According to the City, approximately 25 individuals remain at the encampment at this time, a number that has seemingly grown from the 15-20 individuals the City said were living at the encampment when trespass notices were posted in March. The City also feels there is “adequate” shelter space available currently.

“City staff continue to monitor shelter capacity daily, and while the number of available shelter beds at each location fluctuates, there has been consistent capacity at a variety of shelter locations over the last several months,” continued the statement in response to Kingstonist inquiries.

In terms of how long the appeal process will take and what will happen next, the City said “the timing of the application will be determined once it is filed with the Court in the coming weeks.”

“In the interim,” the City’s statement concluded, “City staff and partner agencies will continue to work with the encampment residents to assess their needs and offer shelter and supports.”

With files from Jessica Foley.

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