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City of Kingston removes temporary services at Belle Park

The entrance to Belle Park on Montreal Street served as a City-sanctioned, temporary homeless encampment since early April. Temporary services provided by the City to allow this were cut off on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. Photo by Samantha Butler-Hassan in June 2020.

On the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, City of Kingston Staff began implementing City Council’s decision to extend the bylaw exemption allowing campers to remain in Belle Park until the end of July, 2020.

The temporary services that had been provided to those camping at Belle Park which have now been removed include the temporary power, portable toilets, and large garbage dumpsters. As previously indicated by the City, the Belle Park Clubhouse washrooms and garbage containers will remain available to all members of the public for the remainder of the season.

This move has drawn opposition from a number of organizations (not related to the municipality), such as Mutual Aid Katarokwi-Kingston, who are now calling on Kingstonians to engage in a phone blast via social media. The organization is encouraging citizens who are upset with the City’s actions to call both City CAO Lanie Hurdle and Dr. Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for the KFL&A region.

“The Cooling Centre at Artillery Park is not housing and not an alternative to Belle Park for everyone. The city has claimed to be supporting residents at Belle Park in transitioning to permanent housing. Cutting services the city previously deemed necessary does not help, but only increases anxiety and potential harm. It does nothing to make housing alternatives. You must return services now,” Mutual Aid Katarokwi-Kingston (MAKK) wrote in a sample script offered to their followers wanting to participate in the phone blast.

MAKK said that the phone blast should take place over the course of two days, Tuesday, Aug. 11 and Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020.

“The City’s removal of services at Belle Park is an assault on the unhoused of Kingston, a risk to public health, and in contravention of UN Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights,” said MAKK member Toni Thorton in a press release. “We urge Kingstonians to call the City to return services at Belle Park, and continue working toward real housing solutions.”

MAKK noted that City Council voted 7-6 not to extend the exemption to camping in the city park beyond July 31 despite “the lack of housing solutions for people currently living in Belle Park,” however, residents have remained in the park and services have been maintained until today. The organization noted that City Staff are aware of the community support for those who have been living in the park and stated that, in an email in early July, CAO Hurdle wrote to councillors that to avoid a “human shield” defending Belle Park, residents there would be allowed a transition period of three to four weeks where services are removed.

From MAKK’s position, the removal of services today indicates that the City “plans to circumvent support for Belle Park residents and is moving to end the encampment without meaningful alternatives.” The organization asserted that funded harm reduction agencies like HARS have begun to cut back services provided at the park under direction from the City.

“This is an unacceptable situation developing,” said MAKK member Matt Silburn. “As a community mutual aid organization, we intend to mobilize neighbourhood and citywide support for Belle Park residents, to let the City know that there should be no evictions of, or cuts in services whatsoever to, unhoused people, especially during COVID.”

According to a press release, City Staff will conduct an initial clean-up of the “former camp” at Belle Park later this week to ensure it is safe for public use. The City said a number of items, including some vacant tents, have been left behind by those who left the park as requested.

“We are doing everything we can to avoid evictions while implementing the Council decision to not allow camping at Belle Park after July 31st. The announcement last week and the planned removal of these services are meant to encourage those who are still in Belle Park to seek out one of the interim housing options being offered, as it is no longer legal to camp in any Kingston park,” said CAO Hurdle in a statement.

The Integrated Care Hub set up at Artillery Park and run by HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS), now offers access to electricity, Wi-Fi, washrooms, showers, rest areas, meals, and referrals to community supports, the City said. According to HARS, these services are available 23/7, with a closure from 10 to 11 a.m. to allow for a deep cleaning of the facility.

According to the City, City Staff and community partners continue to work with those who remain in Belle Park or without housing to help them figure out a plan for their living situations.

The City said that, in response to public complaints about activity at the new Integrated Services Hub, garbage collection and security around Artillery Park has been increased, and a needle disposal location has been added. Artillery Park will continue to host the Integrated Services Hub until the end of September 2020. As such, Kingston City Council will receive a recommendation for a more permanent location for the Care Hub in a report that has been added to the Council Agenda for the meeting tonight, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020.

Kingstonist will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates on Council’s discussion and decision on this matter later this week.

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