Only days after Kingston Police and City officials said they would be allowed to remain at Springer Market Square, homeless campers have been instructed to vacate the site.
Kingston Police Sergeant Steve Koopman confirmed that City officials visited the site on Friday morning to speak with the campers, advise them that they couldn’t remain, and provide possible alternatives. “It was a coordinated effort between Kingston Police, Housing and Social Services, Home Base Housing’s Street Outreach Team, and City Bylaw Enforcement.” Because of the inclement weather, Koopman says that it was agreed that the campers could remain until the next day to take down their tents. By Thursday evening, the City had already removed the portable washroom facilities it had previously set up at the site.
Koopman says that at any given time, there were between three to six campers at Springer Market Square. During their visit on Friday, there were four at the site. Koopman said the individuals were given several alternatives, including shelter at the Kingston Social Isolation Centre on Ridley Drive. Koopman says that one of the individuals refused service and walked away, while the others agreed but wanted to wait until the next day to break down their equipment.
“Our community recognized that there were individuals camping in unsafe conditions, potentially not being able to distance themselves adequately,” said the City of Kingston in a statement. “As a community we responded with a multi-agency approach including Kingston Police, City of Kingston Housing & Social Services, City of Kingston Bylaw Enforcement, Home Base Housing / Street Outreach, KFL&A Public Health and Kingston Transit. The approach, although larger in scale, was standard for how our current shelter system approaches the needs of those experiencing homelessness.”
“The individuals were offered safe alternatives to their current situation including physical distancing shelter services, Kingston Self Isolation Centre, another larger outdoor location, and transportation to a sustainable housing situation. Solutions were found for the majority of individuals with some solutions still taking shape with the agencies involved,” continued the statement.
The reasoning behind the abrupt about-face was not immediately clear. In a previous statement, City of Kingston officials had said that “the setup behind City Hall is a Kingston Police matter.” Kingston Police, meanwhile, said that they had been at the site only in a support role to the City. Neither statements from Kingston Police nor the City of Kingston addressed how the alternatives they had previously stated to be unfeasible, had been made feasible.
Tom Greening, Executive Director at Home Base Housing says his staff are working hard to address the needs of individuals living rough. “We have moved additional staffing from our adult and youth Housing First programs into our existing Street Outreach Service. We have 3.5 staff and a supervisor visiting all areas of the city checking on homeless individuals, delivering food, water supplies and offering alternatives to living rough. We are currently on the streets six days a week and we are trying to get to seven days a week.”
“We were very aware of the people around city hall and in the downtown core. We had two of our staff at city hall (on Friday morning) offering to assist the folks there if they wanted to consider other alternatives,” says Greening. “I’ve been told that the conversations were supportive and I believe that one or more people said they didn’t mind moving but wanted to wait until the weather improved…Home Base and Street Outreach Service has no say whether the City requires people to move. We work within the situation as it is presented and do what we can to help homeless adults and youth deal with whatever scenario they may be facing.”