City takes ‘measured approach’ to daytime sheltering prohibition; advocates celebrate ‘thwarted eviction attempts’

A large tree within the encampment at Belle Park broke in the wind, snow, and rain of the night of Wednesday, Apr. 4, 2024, narrowly missing residents in their tents, according to an advocate for those living at the encampment who was on site the following morning. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

Flexibility will be key, according to City of Kingston officials, as they attempt to enforce a bylaw that would disrupt an encampment of unhoused individuals living in Belle Park alongside the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) on Montreal Street.

Paige Agnew, Commissioner of Growth and Development Services for the City, had no real update to present on the morning of Thursday, Apr. 4, 2024 during a planned media briefing, which was suddenly moved to a virtual format an hour before it began. Agnew did confirm that the City had backed off enforcement yesterday because of the “blockade” put in place at the site of the encampment at Belle Park. However, the City will persist with the enforcement of the bylaw, she said.

“The blockade that was put in place [Wednesday, April 3] was preventing City staff from being able to get in and do some of the work that we needed to continue to do on the site,” said Agnew. “Unfortunately, a similar circumstance also happened this morning. We had staff that returned to the site again. This is part of our daily work; it has been for an extended period of time of having staff down working on the site each and every day, as well as some of our community partners like Street Outreach. So that work unfortunately wasn’t able to proceed again this morning based on the site being blocked and staff [being blocked] from being able to safely access.”

During the media briefing, City staff indicated that a press release on the matter would be sent out following the briefing. That press release was not issued until after 1 p.m.; it echoed what Agnew said at the briefing and included a photo of people physically blocking access to the encampment.

A photo release by the City of Kingston purporting to show advocates blocking access to the encampment at Belle Park. In response to Kingstonist inquiries, the City confirmed that this photo was taken on the morning of Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2024. Despite the City saying the supporters of people living at the encampment were blocking access to it, it appears that a Kingston Police Liaison Team member is behind the fencing (in the day-glow yellow). Photo via City of Kingston.
Members of the Kingston Police Liaison Team on scene at Belle Park on the morning of Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2024. One member is wearing a similar day-glow yellow jacket to the one pictured above. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

The press release following the briefing also stated, “On Wednesday morning, Kingston Police, including a two-person liaison team, were at Belle Park to assist City staff. These teams typically are involved with non-enforcement-related activities.” While that statement does not specify exactly how many police officers were on scene Wednesday morning, it is clear from photos taken at the time (like the one above) that at least four Kingston Police officers were present.

Still, at the Thursday morning briefing — and in the press release that followed it — Agnew stated the City would continue to press forward with its efforts to enforce the daytime sheltering ban.

“So,” she continued during the Thursday briefing, “staff have backed off again today. And again, we’re just trying to approach this with as much sensitivity and care as possible in a measured approach… We’re going to be continuing to work on a daily basis. So despite the fact the last two days we’ve not been able to proceed with some of that work, we are going to continue to be going back each day and trying to do the work that has been going on for months.”

The press release that followed stated, “While City staff are asking for voluntary compliance, Agnew points out that ‘as a last resort, the City will consider all available legal remedies,'” with Agnew pointing once again to City Council’s direction to enforce the parks bylaw that includes the daytime sheltering prohibition. That “direction” stems from the end of the encampment protocol moratorium Council had put in place in early 2023.

Asked at the media briefing if the City is expecting a time to come when a blockade won’t be in place at the encampment, given how committed those advocates creating the blockades seem to be, Agnew said she doesn’t know, as the situation is unfolding daily.

“I remain hopeful and optimistic that we can certainly work toward, you know, getting back on the site and being able to assist the individuals that are there and moving toward compliance with the bylaw…The city is not going to reverse its position or stop doing that work. We have a direction as staff to work on this consistently from our City Council, and we’re going to continue to do that,” she reiterated.

Asked whether enforcement of the daytime sheltering prohibition is taking place at other City-owned parks, Agnew said City staff are “following up on that.”

Paige Agnew, Commissioner of Growth and Development for the City of Kingston, addresses the media during a briefing on the daytime sheltering prohibition enforcement on Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2024. The briefing today (Thursday, Apr. 4, 2024) took place virtually. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

“Sometimes we receive information or calls from the public about… someone residing in a park. So our staff are, when we’re called, following up and going to engage those individuals,” she said.

However, Agnew did note that “the concentration of the number of people at Belle Park is the greatest, and it’s the most entrenched in terms of the type of structures that are there… Our approach will be similar across all other parks, but our focus for right now has been primarily on Belle Park.”

Yesterday some residents had provided and posted letters stating that they are unable to physically remove and reassemble their shelters due to disability and health challenges. Asked what the City’s response to that is, Agnew said that the approach the City is taking is to work with the individuals themselves. “We have a lot of outreach services,” she said.

“We’re evaluating every circumstance. We’re there physically to assist with any requests that an individual may need for assistance — if they needed to pack things up, if they needed help moving things, if they need the help storing things, we’re there to physically help with that work,” Agnew continued.

“It’s not left to the individual to have to manage this certainly all on their own, and we’re trying to apply the greatest sensitivity to people with all different types of circumstances and limitations. Because, you know, that’s life. And some of the folks there have experienced a lot of trauma and are certainly struggling, and we’re aware of that… That’s been the focus and will remain our focus going forward.”

Asked about whether the City intends to have staff on site to provide this assistance daily, Agnew said that idea of helping people set up and take down tents is “not part of our resourcing plan.”

“If that request came and there was an individual who was ready to make a transition and to better comply with the bylaw the way it’s written, we would make every effort to try to figure out that circumstance,” Agnew said.

She went on to point out that “we also have folks from Street Outreach that are there. We have folks at the ICH there, [and] there are some resources, but of course this is a city-wide initiative. So we would also have to be realistic about what we could provide on an ongoing basis.”

In the press release that followed the briefing, the City said that “City staff will continue applying the Parks Use By-Law (#2009-76) in all municipally owned parks, as directed by Council. However, due to exceptional operational demands for Monday’s total solar eclipse, the City acknowledges that a reduced staff presence is likely in the coming days.”

At the briefing, Agnew said, “There’s no additional activity that’s going on [at Belle Park] today,” reiterating that when City staff attended the park this morning (Thursday, Apr. 4, 2024), they were “unable to access the site.”

Kingstonist reporters were on the ground at Belle Park from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Thursday morning. Tree trunks had been pulled in front of the entrance to the encampment area, but just one person sat at that fence line. Additionally, advocates for those living at the encampment were present with banners, but they were not blocking access to the encampment.

The City has indicated it will host a press briefing on this matter again on the morning of Friday, Apr. 5, 2024, but said it does not intend to continue holding daily briefings indefinitely.

With regard to the “expanded shelter space” the City was touting on Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2024, Kingstonist has learned those spaces are not available as often as the City initially indicated.

On Wednesday, the City said, “Daytime services have expanded, with Adelaide St. Centre, a shelter and daytime drop-in, now operating 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., seven days a week. There are 30 spaces during day services, which started March 29.” On Thursday, the City changed that wording to “The City has worked closely with community partners to share information about expanded options for storage, daytime shelters and support services. This includes expanded daytime drop-in services on Saturday and Sunday (from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. at Adelaide St. Centre) and a new sea container in Belle Park, operated by Homebase Housing, which will be open daily to store tents and belongings during the day.”

Kingstonist reached out to Lionhearts Inc., the organization that oversees the operations of the Adelaide Street Shelter, for clarification. Brandon Maracle, Housing Operations Manager for Lionhearts Inc., explained that daytime shelter services are only available on weekends.

“The Adelaide Street Shelter is open from 9:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. seven days a week and we sleep up to 60 guests,” Maracle said in an email to Kingstonist.

“Beyond the evening program, we operate Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. The day program also hosts up 60 guests.”

Maracle further clarified that the day program only runs two days a week (Saturday and Sunday).

Meanwhile, local social justice advocates Mutual Aid Katarokwi Kingston (MAKK) issued a release late on Wednesday entitled “Community Solidarity Thwarts City’s Opportunistic Eviction Attempt.”

“In a powerful act of solidarity and compassion, encampment residents, neighbours, and concerned community members rallied on Wednesday, April 3, 2024, to block the City of Kingston’s callous attempt to evict and displace people sheltering in Belle Park. Side-by-side in the pouring rain, we resisted the City’s opportunistic plan to exploit legal loopholes to enforce a day-time eviction… We refuse to accept their narrative that these evictions would do anything but further harm those who are already marginalized,” the release stated.

The release went on to say that the City is “shamelessly misinterpreting” the November 2023 Superior Court ruling on the matter.

“During the case, disappointingly, the day-time circumstances of encampment residents were not considered. There was no evidence brought forward to address the availability of resources during day-time, or how a day-time eviction of the encampment could exacerbate the effects of other bylaws that target the same population (e.g., the Community Standards Bylaw, which prohibits loitering),” MAKK wrote.

“It is not in the spirit of the judge’s decision to carry out evictions based on their opportunistic misinterpretation. If the City truly wishes to take such measures, it must return to court and substantiate the constitutionality of its bylaws.”

MAKK’s statement went on to discuss the discrepancies between the number of daytime shelter spaces reported by the City and the actual number of daytime shelter spaces, pointing out that “the reality is that there are not enough daytime services available to accommodate the unhoused population, and expecting individuals to dismantle their shelters daily is a blatant disregard for their dignity and well-being.” The release made it clear they have no intention in backing down in their opposition to the City’s enforcement of the daytime sheltering prohibition.

“The lack of political will to address homelessness is undeniable. Recent investments in infrastructure and tourism projects show that the City has ample resources [but] that it fails to prioritize affordable housing and support services. It is not only possible but morally imperative that City funds be redirected to support every person’s fundamental rights to shelter and care. We cannot afford to continue investing in infrastructure, tourism, and eviction enforcement, and expecting vulnerable community members to pay the ultimate costs,” the press release from the advocacy group stated.

“We reject the City of Kingston’s cruel eviction strategy and call for a humane and equitable approach to addressing homelessness. No evictions in Belle Park should ever occur, but especially not when there are insufficient accessible housing options for the very people they are evicting. Harm-reduction housing must be prioritized. Another world is possible, and it requires courage, compassion, and a commitment to upholding the dignity of all individuals,” MAKK concluded.

“After many years of fighting for accessible housing for all and against these inhumane and shortsighted evictions, we are still here and we’re not going anywhere. We know the City will be back, committed to wasting its resources on this inhumane effort to make homelessness less visible. We will be back too.”

Kingstonist is continuing to speak with advocates working with those at the encampment, and will continue to provide updated coverage of this matter.

More information on Mutual Aid Katarokwi Kingston (MAKK) can be found on the organization’s website.

With files from Tori Stafford and Cris Vilela.

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