City will not ask Belle Park camp occupants to move on Friday
City of Kingston CAO Lanie Hurdle has decided to cancel further bylaw enforcement at Belle Park on Friday Jul. 31, following confusion over erroneous eviction notices issued Tuesday morning.
“I have decided not to provide any reminder this week due to the fact that people at Belle Park are already anxious due to [Tuesday’s] incident,” Hurdle wrote in an email to councillors.
“Next week, I intend to personally go to Belle Park with our trained partners to talk to people about the transitioning, and that we will continue to work with them, including information on services. This approach will be one on one,” she said.
Though a bylaw amendment allows Kingston’s unhoused to camp at Belle Park until Friday, those settled further into the park received eviction notices at approximately 10 a.m. on Tuesday.
Several hours of confusion ensued during which city officials, local advocates and members of the media were contacted or called to the park. One park resident was reportedly injured in an accident during this time, and had to be taken to the hospital.
Shortly after 12:30 p.m., Hurdle issued an email explaining the error. Bylaw officers were not supposed to issue eviction notices, she said. Rather, they had been instructed to make a verbal request for those camping on the grassy, eastern end of the park to relocate to the parking lot.
According to the City, as Belle Park formerly served as a dump, the ground is contaminated and not safe for extended occupancy. However, the bylaw amendment which permits camping does technically apply to the whole park, Hurdle said.
Bylaw officers returned to the park at 1:30 p.m. to clarify that no one would be evicted, but that it was recommended they move. Officers were reportedly unaware that the entire area of the park was permitted for camping under the bylaw exemption.
The City is in the process of opening a 24-hour Integrated Services Hub with overnight shelter at Artillery Park, to fill the gap in services that have led people into the park. It is currently open part-time for drop-in tours, and scheduled to be running at full capacity starting Friday Jul. 31, 2020.
Some of the camp’s residents have said they do not wish to move, despite the offer of new services at Artillery Park.
“I’m not going anywhere,” said camp resident Sylvie Clark on Tuesday morning. “I’m not moving, I’ll go to jail first. I don’t care. Take my [stuff], throw it in the garbage, I’ll sleep on the ground right here. I’m not going anywhere on the 31st. If I do, I’ll park my [self] in front of City Hall.”
Multiple sources at the City Hall have told the Kingstonist that no one will be removed from the park by force.
CAO Lanie Hurdle addresses eviction confusion
On Wednesday, Jul. 29, the Kingstonist reached out to the CAO Lanie Hurdle as well as Mayor Bryan Paterson seeking clarification on the chain of events that led to Tuesday’s incident. Here is the reply received from CAO Lanie Hurdle.
K – Can you explain – or provide copies of – the instructions that were given to Bylaw officers regarding action at Belle Park on the morning of Tuesday the 28th?
LH – The verbal instructions to staff were to ask campers to relocate from the contaminated area of the park to the parking lot at the front which is safer.
There was a breakdown in communication which led to a misunderstanding in the implementation, resulting in a verbal and written notification that asked people to leave the Park rather than relocating to a safer part of the property.
K – If bylaw was told to give verbal notice, then why were eviction notices prepared and printed? Who gave the initial order to provide the verbal notice, and how many people did those instructions move through before we got to the point of delivery of physical notices with a two-hour window for eviction?
LH – The decision to notify the campers to relocate from the contaminated area of the park to the parking lot was made as a team including multiple departments. However, there was a breakdown in communication which led to a misunderstanding in the implementation. We regret this incident and want to continue to work collaboratively with people at Belle Park.
K – Was there simply a lack of clarity in the instructions, or was a decision made somewhere along the line to escalate the action that was taken?
LH – The City and partners have been working together for months to establish a positive relationship with campers at Belle Park. This entire situation was a result of a breakdown in communication, nothing more.
Note: Mayor Paterson did not respond, however his assistant emailed to confirm that the request was being looked into.