The City of Kingston reports that they have taken “the final steps to remove what remains of an encampment at Belle Park” this afternoon.
At approximately 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Sep. 1, 2020 City Staff escorted by members of Kingston Police reportedly arrived at Belle Park with trucks and heavy equipment.
Members of the community group Mutual Aid Katorakwi Kingston (MAKK) and their supporters arrived shortly afterwards to protest the action and assist campers. City Councillor and Deputy Mayor Jim Neill and community advocate Dr. Eva Purkey also attended the scene. According to Neill and Purkey, they were both denied entry to the park to speak with those residing there.
“We’ve been told we’ll be arrested if we cross the police line to help,” Dr. Purkey said, noting that there were at least a dozen police officers on scene. Purkey has previously been vocally opposed to the eviction of those living in Belle Park.
Councillor Neill also said that he had been denied access to the park, and noted that it was his understanding that Belle Park is a public park and that it would require an act in council to close it. He noted that a City Council meeting scheduled for later in the day might be the reason more of his Council colleagues were not in attendance.
The homeless encampment has been at Belle Park since April of this year, and City Council previously voted to extend the by-law exemption to allow the camp to remain two times. Those exemptions expired at the beginning of August.
“Today – a month after camping in City parks officially became illegal in Kingston – the City has taken the final steps to remove what remains of an encampment at Belle Park and make it safe and accessible for recreational use by all,” said a statement from the City of Kingston, released one hour after the eviction began.
“Before and since the July 31 deadline set by City Council, municipal staff and a team of community partners have worked to support the people at the encampment and assist them in transitioning to one of a number of interim housing options,” the City said.
The City reported that personnel from Housing and Social Services and Addiction and Mental Health Services were in attendance at Belle Park during the eviction.
“They were offered assistance to move their belongings and free transportation to the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) based at the Artillery Park Aquatic Centre, 382 Bagot St., or to another location of their choice,” the statement read.
According to MAKK, Kingston Police initially blocked some of the park occupants, who were not present when the eviction began, from re-entering to gather their belongings.
“Public Works staff are working to clear the area of debris and any items left behind to make Belle Park ready for safe and accessible public use,” the statement from the City read.
City Staff were seen shoving tents and other items into City vehicles to remove them from the site. Oddly, City Staff were also seen helping some occupants move items further back into the park at the same time. It appeared as though some campers are refusing to leave, and the few volunteers who were on site prior to police arrival were seen helping the occupants move their items into the more densely-treed area further back in the park.
According to Kingston Police, belongings were being taken to Cooks Brothers Youth Centre at Megaffin Park for later retrieval by owners. However, truckloads of items were later seen dumped at the City’s Railway St yard.
The City of Kingston confirmed to the Kingstonist over email Tuesday afternoon that larger items are being stored. One camp resident has reportedly been separated from his wheelchair in the shuffle, and others report being unable to claim their items.
Kingstonist will update this article as more information becomes available.