Dr. Kieran Moore, Kingston’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, uses a simple phrase to sum up his approach to the Belle Park tent camp: “Nothing about you, without you,” he said.
This maxim of Kingston Frontenac Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health Unit keeps the affected people at the centre of planning, he said.
“These [occupants at Belle Park] are members of our community,” he told the Kingstonist during an interview on Thursday Jun. 4, 2020, “and we have to recognize that they have to be at the heart of any decision making.”
Dr. Moore confirmed that he is satisfied with City’s new July 7 deadline to relocate the encampment at Belle Park, as an appropriate new site remains undetermined.
State of Emergency has the City’s ‘hands tied’
“The hands of the city are somewhat tied in their ability to respond to this,” Dr. Moore said.
“The closure of so many different facilities in the area under municipal control, and the physical distancing that’s required has really limited their ability. They’re trying to be very nimble and responsive to the needs of this community. But given the measurements that have been put in place, many of the previous facilities that they’ve used to provide care for these individuals are not suitable.”
City Council had previously announced a deadline of Friday, June 5, 2020 to relocate the encampment, on the heels of a warning statement from Dr. Moore at the KFL&A board meeting.
Speaking at the KFL&A board meeting on Wednesday, May 27, 2020, Dr. Moore shared concerns over garbage, water, hygiene issues and the spread of infectious disease.
“If we don’t see action on this I’m very prepared to write an order that the city deals with it promptly,” he said, under the authority of the Infectious Disease Act. “I haven’t brought the hammer yet but I am very, very prepared to do so.”
Rumours then circulated that the city planned to move residents to an alternate private camping location, which led to speculation and confusion among many advocates for the city’s homeless.
Tom Greening, Executive Director of Home Base Housing, told the Kingstonist he was concerned that some occupants might “simply move to other locations” if offered a site too far from the city, and without adequate consultation.
“We are concerned that we are going to disperse people further into the bush and onto other private property around the city,” he said.
Since then, city councillors, public health, local social service agencies, residents at Belle Park and other concerned citizens have engaged in extensive dialogue. Dr. Moore confirmed that everyone now seems to be on the same page.
Mayor Paterson, Dr. Moore consult occupants together
Dr. Moore went to Belle Park with Mayor Bryan Paterson the day after the board meeting, on Thursday, May 28, 2020.
“I wanted to see Belle Park personally and I thought it was wonderful that the mayor came with me,” he said. “We met with many of the members of that community and discussed some for their current needs. I wanted to see first hand and be assured that washroom services were provided, garbage services, that water was clearly available, and that many members of the community were helping to support these individuals. It’s always good to have that direct communication line.”
Following that meeting, Dr. Moore said many council members and other allied services met with this community again at the park, always trying to maintain physical distancing, “to ensure that we listened to them, we hear their voice, that we understood their needs, that they have to be part of the discussion and the solution.” Public health inspectors have also been routinely visiting the park to monitor for infectious disease he said. The inspections will continue, he said, and the City is aware that he is always required to intervene if a risk of an infectious disease outbreak develops.
New site still unknown
Dr. Moore wouldn’t speculate on other prospective sites for the camp, saying he wanted the dialogue to be “with this community.” He gave the example of the Warming and Counselling Centre that opened on Wellington St. earlier this year. as a space that had served the community very well, pre-pandemic. The site was abruptly closed at the end of March over concerns of Covid-19 transmission.
“I visited it many times,” he said. “It was downtown, it was central and many individuals in that community liked it. But you can’t do good physical distancing in it. We have to find a location with the support of this community, that is accessible to this community, that will also meet the requirements to limit the spread of infectious disease. It’s a very unusual year that we’re going to have to be dealing with going forward.”
Update from City
On Friday, Jun. 5, 2020, the City of Kingston issued a press release reiterating Council’s decision to extend the deadline for campers at Belle Park.
According to the City, this decision was made “provide the City and its community partners time to work closely with campers on accommodations that better meet their expressed needs.”
“The choice to be outdoors and not use our shelters has presented the City and its community partners a challenge. We now have the time to meet this challenge to find safe, interim and sustainable housing solutions based on the needs we have heard,” said Lanie Hurdle, CAO for the City of Kingston, in the release.
The City confirmed that Council decision:
- waived the bylaw that forbids camping only in Belle Park until July 7 to provide more time to allow for transitioning campers at Belle Park.
- delegated authority to the CAO and designated staff to allow them flexibility to access properties and partnerships on a temporary basis, if needed, to implement the transition plan.
The City noted that camping in municipal parks violates Provincial Orders and contravenes City bylaws, and that, as the number of campers has grown at Belle Park, physical distancing has become more challenging.
“This is about what we can do given all the challenges involved. We can’t risk the spread of infection – this was always considered a short-term solution,” Hurdle said.
According to the City, moving forward towards a solution will include working with those residing at Belle Park to:
- find supported interim housing solutions.
- continue to offer shelter at existing facilities as City shelters have ample capacity.
- provide drop-in day support services such as access to showers, laundry, and counseling.
- work with local campgrounds to provide opportunity for people to camp there, providing them with the necessary camping essentials such as tents and sleeping bags.
The City also noted that it has taken the following steps to help support people who are experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- providing new temporary locations for two shelters that increased capacity by about 25 per cent while providing for proper physical distancing.
- providing families with suites in motels/hotels.
- providing transportation to safe and sustainable housing.
- working with community partners to offer various supports including camping provisions and counseling.
- installing portable toilets and hand-washing stations at multiple locations including Belle Park.
Editorial note: Mayor Bryan Paterson and Dr. Kieran Moore meeting at Belle Park to speak to the residents there was not an event the media was made aware of in advance. Reporter Samantha Butler-Hassan went to the park while working on an article about it and the two men simply happened to be there at the time. This was not a staged photo opportunity.