Council to debate delay of evictions at Belle Park encampment

Supprorters of the Belle Park and Integrated Care Hub Encampments make their voice clear. Photo from Mutual Aid Katarokwi-Kingston.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, Kingston City Council will debate a new motion to delay evictions at the Belle Park unhoused encampment until March 21, 2023. Last week, news broke that the City of Kingston had issued a Notice of Trespass at Belle Park at the K&P Trail, where members of the city’s unhoused community had set up an encampment for over a year. 

“The City of Kingston has issued a Notice of Trespass to those staying at Belle Park and the surrounding K&P Trail, based on the Council-directed Encampment Protocol and increased availability of shelter space endorsed in June 2022,” the City of Kingston said in a press release issued on Jan. 6, 2023. The issuance of the notice came on the heels of the City’s announcement of new drop-in and shelter bed locations that are set to open up throughout the month of January. 

“The City’s Bylaw Number 2009-76 – A Bylaw To Provide For The Regulation Use Of Parks And Recreation Facilities – prohibits camping and the use of camping equipment in all public parks. Since the adoption of the encampment protocol, the process to relocate unhoused individuals staying in public parks has been ongoing.” 

According to the press release, staff intend to relocate those currently staying at the encampments to new shelter spaces and warming centres, with a transition deadline of Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, at 5 p.m. “After this time, sleeping or camping (including the installation, construction or maintenance of any type of structure intended for human habitation, such as tents or shelters) at Belle Park, the K&P Trail, or at any other City-owned park, will not be permitted,” the press release noted. 

Last week’s Notice of Trespass issuance marked the first significant steps to evict the latest encampment. However, a motion being brought forward by King’s Town District Councillor Gregory Ridge seeks to extend the transition window by over two months, placing a moratorium on the order until Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2023. Ridge’s motion, seconded by Kingscourt-Rideau District Councillor Brandon Tozzo, notes that a decision by the previous City Council called for the “gradual relocation” of members of the Belle Park encampment. 

Despite new drop-in beds and other shelter spaces, Ridge’s motion explains that a quick relocation may be difficult for some. “The City has provided additional shelter spaces however, they may be inaccessible to people in the encampments due to needs around addiction and substance use that [are] in conflict with rules and regulations at existent shelter options, and the relocation on January 11th may result in the disposal of possessions essential to survival during the winter.” 

The council motion was put forward after community groups such as Mutual Aid Katarokwi/Kingston (MAKK) spoke out against the planned evictions, saying they were “heart-broken, confused, and infuriated” by the City’s eviction notices. “We call on Kingston City Council to stop evictions at the ICH and Belle Park,” MAKK said in a release on Friday, Jan 6, 2022. “The evictions are inhumane and will distance people from the life-saving services that the ICH provides. We also call on the City’s Housing Department to implement housing options that meet the needs of people who are unhoused, such as low-barrier shelter options for people who use substances. There is a reason that ICH is always at capacity – it is low-barrier.” 

As MAKK noted, this is not the first time Council has debated the encampment at Belle Park, which first appeared in the early stages of the COVID-19 Pandemic. After the first iteration of the Belle Park encampment was evicted in September 2020, a second encampment appeared in the spring of 2022. In May 2022, Council voted to pause the City’s encampment protocol, which expressly prohibits camping on City property. After additional debate, Council resumed the protocol at a special meeting in June 2022, however, a large tent city has remained at Belle Park and the K&P trail for the last several months. 

“The City of Kingston must stop trying to force people who are unhoused into housing options that do not meet their needs. People who are unhoused have continuously raised these same concerns since the 2020 Belle Park encampment and well before then too,” MAKK said. “The cycle of evictions sends the message that the City seeks to hide people who are unhoused, rather than provide the housing and support options that are desperately needed. Residents are not a problem to be solved; they are fellow residents deserving of dignity, respect, and autonomy over their lives.”

Kingston City Council will debate the motion to delay the evictions at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan 10, 2023, beginning at 7:00 p.m. inside Council Chambers. 

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