Letters on future of encampment at Belle Park
Editorial note: The following are submitted letter to the editor on the potential re-enactment of the City of Kingston’s ‘Encampment Protocol’ at the encampment in Belle Park on Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2023, as outlined at the City Council meeting held Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.
Clearance of encampment near the Integrated Care Hub
Until suitable housing with supports is available to people who are camped near the Integrated Care Hub (ICH), the board of Luke’s Place Kingston cannot agree that the encampment should be dismantled.
Although we understand that the encampment is an eyesore to many, we feel that it is important to realize that our neighbours who live there have created a community where they can feel that they matter to others. That they are not alone. If the City forces people living in the encampment to disperse and fend for themselves without their community, many will be found sleeping on downtown streets and in doorways, which will offend Kingstonians even more.
The ICH has saved many lives by reversing drug overdoses. Shelter is available to some in inclement weather, as well as some food. Counselling is there when people feel their lives have meaning and are able to make use of it.
Although an enormous amount of money has been spent to try to address the problem of homelessness, as we know, there is simply not enough housing that low-income people can afford. We believe that it is time for a new vision. One suggestion is that it might be possible to adapt the model of ‘Community First! Village’ in Austin, Texas, where people who have been homeless for at least one year may apply to live in this community of small homes. Some units are as small as sleeping cabins with nearby shared kitchens and bathrooms. Others are a little larger with kitchens and bathrooms included. Support is onsite. Some food is available, as well as a community garden. Building and strengthening community is paramount. Tenants pay rent for their units. Like Kingston, property is scarce and expensive so the Community First! Village is on the outskirts of the city but regular bus service is an important part of meeting the needs of the tenants.
“Luke’s Place Kingston is a non-profit housing group, which plans to purchase a small apartment in order that people who have an intellectual disability may share an affordable living space with other people in the Kingston community. Our partner, Community Living Kingston & District, will provide supports to their tenants.”
Stop evictions at ICH/Belle Park
The City of Kingston is proceeding with its planned eviction of Belle Park encampment residents that could take place on or sometime after this coming Tuesday, March 21. On March 14, the City of Kingston issued a statement saying that they have consulted with encampment residents near Belle Park and the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) and are offering low-barrier shelter options. The release also stated there is extra shelter capacity to accommodate those still in the encampment.
We have serious concerns about all three claims: (1) that encampment residents were consulted, (2) that the places referenced in the release are low-barrier options, and (3) that there is additional capacity in the shelter system. We believe the City cannot and should not claim that any of these are meaningfully true. Instead, we presume that the City is seeking to abdicate its responsibility in the wake of the Waterloo ruling that affirmed encampment residents’ rights. We therefore think that any steps taken to evict encampment residents in the ICH/Belle Park area would not only be inhumane and unethical, but also a breach of human rights, based on the Waterloo region precedent.
Consulting with the encampment
The City claims that consultation with encampment residents has taken place. Members of MAKK visited the encampment on March 16 and spoke to eight residents, and all of them stated that no City staff members have consulted with them about their situation or needs. We therefore ask the City, who from the current encampment have you consulted? When and where did this happen? Did you disclose that you were City workers and explain the intent of your conversation? Or if you sent partners to conduct this consultation, did they make it clear to encampment residents that they were there on behalf of the City of Kingston and the intent of the conversation? How have these consultations informed services being delivered?
While some of the shelter options in Kingston offer fewer barriers, no location referenced in the City news release is truly low-barrier like the ICH or Sleeping Cabins (neither of which, interestingly, were listed as options). Most importantly, the City of Kingston’s definition of ‘low barrier’ fails to address the accessibility needs of those who use substances. Many of the encampment residents use substances, which is why they stay close to the ICH and in the encampment where residents practice safer substance use together. Omitting reference to substance use in the definition of low barrier is dishonest and against the principles of harm reduction. City staff are claiming that they have done their due diligence, but it is clear that they have not meaningfully listened and responded to residents’ needs and are refusing to address the elephant in the room.
The City has at other times claimed that it isn’t within their responsibility or ability to respond to these needs as a municipality. However, even if they continue to work with the province on longer-term solutions, people need appropriate shelter options now. As long as adequate, low-barrier options do not exist, the City does not have the right to evict residents from the only places they can find adequate shelter. Evictions will not bring people into shelters if those spaces do not meet their needs – they will simply push people further into the woods, away from life-saving care and into greater risk.
Number of beds
Contrary to the City’s claims, there simply aren’t enough shelter beds to accommodate everyone in the encampment now and into the future. MAKK spoke with eight encampment residents who said they stayed outside of ICH on the night of March 14 and they identified an additional 10 people they said were outside as well (there are likely more that we weren’t able to identify). Shelter workers confirmed on March 15 that their locations were at capacity the night of March 14, with the exception of the Kingston Youth Shelter (where no one from the encampment is eligible to stay because they are not 16-24 years old), and St. Mary’s, which had only one available bed on March 14. We are also aware that the Adelaide Shelter was originally only funded until the end of March, and St. Mary’s may only stay open until the end of April. What happens when those beds are gone?
Existing encampment residents haven’t been meaningfully consulted. There is no information about who was consulted or how that has resulted in any service changes in the past two months. People who use substances have not been accommodated. And there are not enough beds in the emergency shelter system now, and there will be fewer by April 30.
Given these circumstances, it’s fair to ask the City about its eviction plans: what does success look like here? If there are not enough shelter spaces period, let alone ones that would meet the needs, let alone actual housing options for people, how can proceeding with an eviction be successful? Evicting people knowing that only risk, harm, and trauma will result is foolhardy, inhumane, and dangerous.
The Waterloo ruling made it clear that encampment residents cannot be evicted when there is a lack of adequate indoor shelter options, and that service restrictions such as rules around substance use have the “net effect of reducing the number of beds that would otherwise be available in the Region” (p.23-24). The City of Kingston can’t say they have done their due diligence, wash their hands of the situation, and evict people who are unhoused simply because the City has met some needs. We all know this isn’t how accessibility and human rights work – they aren’t fooling anyone. We demand that there be no evictions. Instead, there must be meaningful engagement with people who live in the encampment, and accessible options have been provided for everyone so that encampment residents can leave by their own choice. In the meantime, we encourage members of the community to write to City Council, and join MAKK’s rapid response phone tree by texting 613-777-2664 with your name and number. We will reach out if evictions proceed and call on community members to stand in solidarity with the encampment residents and against eviction.
Mutual Aid Katarokwi-Kingston (MAKK)
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