Kingston begins enforcement of daytime sheltering prohibition in City parks

Signs opposing the daytime sheltering prohibition were posted around the encampment at Belle Park on Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2024, like the ones pictured here on a tree in front of a tent marked with text reading “This is not just a tent, it’s my home.” Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

“Calm and conciliatory” is how one observer described the scene at Belle Park as officials arrived to begin enforcing the City of Kingston’s Parks Use By-Law (#2009-76) in Belle Park near the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) on Wednesday morning, April 3, 2024.

Even so, the situation remains complex and challenging.

The area was already active in the early morning with encampment residents, their supporters, and members of local and national media when City trucks, Public Works officials, bylaw enforcement officers, and police began staging at the entrance to Belle Park, just down the block from the ICH.

Beginning at around 9:00 a.m. in the pouring rain, Kingston Utilities staff attended the ICH on Montreal Street and turned the newly installed solar-powered traffic light to red, indicating “STOP. No camping here.” Tents and shelters must now be removed one hour after sunrise and can not be resurrected until one hour before sunset, when the light will change to green, indicating camping overnight is allowed, as it is in all City parks.

The traffic light-like standard next to the ICH and Belle Park is serviced by Utilities Kingston and illuminated red to indicate that camping is prohibited. When camping is allowed again one hour before sunset, according to the City of Kingston. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

At the entrance to the encampment, City workers and Kingston Police officers were greeted by a group of protesters who had moved fencing across the road, blocking their path. From a nearby backyard, a lone woman in pink swore and yelled at the protesters to “stop removing our security fence.”

Police liaison officers approached the group of protesters. A male officer addressed them, saying, “The best thing for me would be a safe resolution to all of this, whatever that looks like, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers.” He stated that it was not their intention to “kick anybody out or drag anybody around,” and said that they need not be afraid of the police or City workers who were on hand “only doing our job.”

Protesters thanked the officer for that assurance, but expressed concern for the individuals in the encampment. One protester pleaded, “You don’t have to do this today; it’s raining.”

Supporters and advocates of those living in the encampment at Belle Park speak with Kingston Police Liaison Team members on Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2024. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

In a separate conversation, Toni Thornton, a local advocate for social justice and housing access, told liaison officers that the protesters, including herself, did not feel that the ruling by Justice Ian Carter was being followed in spirit.

“This is a loophole, it is not in the spirit of the ruling,” she said.

Justice Carter had ruled that the City’s ban on overnight sheltering was unconstitutional. In his decision, he had included an exception to the bylaw allowing people who are unhoused to erect shelters in parks from one hour before sunset to one hour after sunrise. To be clear, Justice Carter did not decide that banning daytime sheltering is constitutional, something lawyers John Done and William Florence of the Kingston Community Legal Clinic (who represent those living at the encampment) have pointed out repeatedly.

Around this time, a police liaison officer detached a sign, one of several attached to the temporary shelters in the park, and brought it to Brad Joyce, the Commissioner of Infrastructure, Transportation & Emergency Services. After a brief discussion, Joyce seemed to indicate that the City workers should leave, and they all began to pull out.

Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, Paige Agnew, Commissioner of Growth & Development Services for the City of Kingston, held a 10:00 a.m. press conference in the community room at 362 Montreal St.

Agnew began by acknowledging that this situation has been complex and challenging, and that Kingstonians have been keen for a positive resolution.

“For some people, the actions that are taking place at Belle Park right now may feel like, ‘Where did this come from?’ But this has been a work in progress for a very long time, dating back to a court decision that we received in late 2023 and direction from our Council to work on developing an operational plan to make sure that we were adhering to the bylaw with respect to daytime sheltering.”

Agnew explained that City staff has been providing “education” to Belle Park encampment residents “for a series of weeks and months, providing options to help people transition with respect to secure storage that’s provided on the site. We also have storage off-site for larger items, again, helping people to develop a plan to transition out of more of the semi-permanent encampments to where we want to get to, which is just allowing unhoused people to shelter overnight in the park by way of use of a tent that has to be set up and taken down each day. But then also allowing folks to remain in the park during the day. Our parks are available to all members of the community at all times.”

One of the notices issued by the City of Kingston to those residing in the Belle Park encampment on Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2024. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

She said that today, Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2024, the City’s action has been to issue a notice, letting the encampment residents know that they have to remove their semi-permanent structures today, adding that there is an understanding of the need for ongoing support.

“That [support] includes some of our partners in the community with addictions and mental health, and Street Outreach, who have been working in lockstep with City staff for many, many weeks, trying to provide services to the residents that are there: sheltering options, trying to build a transition plan for individuals customized to their needs. And then looking at getting to a place where we’re actually enforcing the bylaw as it’s written,” Agnew stated. 

“A lot of what we’ve been trying to do is focus on individual relationship building. As you can imagine, the situation is as complex as people are as human beings. There’s a lot of individual consideration, working with people on a site-by-site basis. Understanding what their needs are, what their wishes are, with an overall goal, of course, of having a community be able to access the park—any community member—have it be a safe and enjoyable place.”

“But also first and foremost,” Agnew noted, “really working to try to find more permanent, safe housing solutions for those individuals that are residing in Belle Park. This is not just a Belle Park issue, although our efforts are focused there immediately this week. This is a common approach that we will be implementing with respect to all City parks because it is a city-wide bylaw.

“There are emergency shelter spaces available for all residents who are there right now. Those have been offered on a daily basis for weeks and weeks and weeks again. Again, it’s up to the individual to want to go into a shelter system or use a shelter bed, but those offers are continuing on a daily basis and will continue. We do have enough spaces to house the residents that are there at this point in time.”

The media briefing was then opened up to questions from the reporters gathered.

First, Agnew was informed by a reporter that Kingstonist was reporting that all of the City crews were pulling back and reevaluating the situation down at Belle Park, and was asked to comment if she could.

“Well, that’s news to me,” Agnew expressed. “It’s also definitely a reflection of how complicated this is.”

“Our staff move in; we see what the situation is,” she said. “Yesterday, actually, the staff encountered quite a bit of aggressive behaviour from some folks that were on the site, trying to advocate for the campers themselves. So again, in safety and in consideration of people’s emotional state, sometimes those decisions are made. I’m not directly involved with what immediately just happened on the site. But again, this is really meant to be a slow, respectful process.”

The invitation to the media briefing had indicated that the briefings would be a daily occurrence, and Agnew was questioned about the need for that. She replied, “We started today… This situation is of great public interest, and people really want to know. The City wants to, of course, be as transparent as possible. It’s complicated. So we want to be able to share information as it’s evolving. We are open to doing that on a daily basis.”

Advocates on the site at the ICH indicated that there were currently 62 people living precariously in structures at the site, more than double the “27 or 28” Agnew had cited. Asked how she accounted for this discrepancy, the Commissioner pointed to “some daily fluctuations.” She added, “I don’t know where that 62 number came from… Certainly, there were a number of individuals that were on site yesterday that are not residents… but our data is logged. And it’s looked at on a day-to-day basis. We have information related to every individual that’s there: what services, what their needs are, what their long-term goals are, all of those pieces. That’s the best I can speak to that.”

JC Kenny, Director of Communications for the City of Kingston, and Paige Agnew, the City’s Commissioner of Growth and Development Services, address the media on Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2024. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Asked to expand on the aggression she had described City staff encountering from protesters at the site, and next steps the City might have to take for safety, Agnew said, ”Certainly we’re always [taking] a very human-centered approach, not just for the individuals that are living there, or people that are advocating on the site as they have a right to be, but also for our staff. So, for safety, and trying to de-escalate in every possible way, our staff have received specific trauma-informed training and [employ it] in all of their interactions.”

“Certainly, we have the police on standby as a resort if that was ever needed. But we’re really trying to get voluntary compliance in a peaceful respectful way. Recognizing people have a right to their difference of opinion, but really focusing on that de-escalation,” she continued.

“It’s incredibly emotional for everybody involved; not just the residents themselves because it’s incredibly, deeply personal, but the staff who are there working every day also feel very emotionally [invested in] a good resolution.”

Agnew was asked if having police personnel onsite today had the potential to heighten the already high “emotions” of those involved.

“They are a group of the police that they don’t wear a full uniform,” she answered. “They wear some identifier for sure, but they’re really focused on de-escalation, relationship building, trying to bring a presence of support, but as non-aggressively as possible. They [are a liaison team], a faction of the police. Based on yesterday’s experience, we did ask them to come in. Three members of the police liaison team are there today. But they are there more as a presence of support. Again, they are focusing on relationship building. And that’s really the difference between that liaison team and the regular police force.”

It should be noted that at the March 14 press briefing announcing the City’s intention to begin enforcement of the daytime sheltering prohibition, Brad Joyce, Commissioner of Infrastructure, Transportation, and Emergency Services for the City of Kingston, stated that police involvement in that enforcement would only be involved if absolutely necessary.

“They are a last resort so they will not be present,” Joyce said of police presence during enforcement at the March press briefing.

At today’s press briefing, it was noted that the current encampment residents have already chosen not to seek shelter beds, and the concern was raised that removing them from the encampment would move them out into less visible places where they would be at higher risk.

Agnew responded, “I think that that is a valid point, for sure… underlining all of this is a person’s free will and choice to live according to their own set of moral codes and what’s comfortable for them… it’s not a forced situation. People have to [acknowledge] that some people choose to live out in the open because they’re more comfortable with that. I think what we’re saying here is not that they cannot continue to shelter in the park overnight. It’s really about making sure that’s being done in a way that is not occupying large parts of the park and making them not available for the broader community. They can continue to shelter there, as they could in any park overnight; it’s just adhering to that… one hour before sunset/one after sunrise timeline of having their tent set up, having their personal belongings be with them and contained in the park to a much greater extent than what’s there now.”

It was noted that there were signs attached to tents, reading, “I am not able to take down and put up my tent every day because of my disabilities.” Agnew was asked what the approach might be in that case.

Agnew agreed that this was an important question.

“Every individual is approached with their own care plan and based on the perimeters of what they need. And the range of needs of individuals are as varied as they would be of people in this room… We don’t want to set anybody up for failure, so there are ongoing conversations about the best way to approach that within a reasonable ability. So that’s about as best as I can say without getting into individual circumstances and people’s privacy,” she said.

According to Agnew, the Kingston Humane Society has offered assistance to anyone with a pet who might require a shelter bed.

“The City does pay for that. Anyone who has a pet, you’re very emotionally connected to your pet. They can be vital for your own sense of comfort and stability and working with individual plans to try to help people so that doesn’t become a barrier to moving into something that’s real permanent and secure for them,” she said.

Agnew then reiterated that this is a challenging issue requiring very individualized support: “We recognize this is going to be extremely difficult for people who are sheltering in parks. The City is committed to supporting those impacted by this change in a fair and reasonable way.”

A press release was passed out to media members indicating that daytime services have expanded, with Adelaide St. Centre, a shelter and daytime drop-in, now operating 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., seven days a week. There are 30 spaces during day services, which started Friday, Mar. 29, 2024, according to the City.

Also, it notes a new storage container in Belle Park, operated by Homebase Housing, will be open daily to store tents and belongings during the day.

The City states in the release that it “is committed to working with individuals in the encampment to have voluntary compliance. As a last resort, the City will consider all available legal remedies… The City of Kingston remains dedicated to finding safe, supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness. To learn more about Encampment Protocol Procedures or to comment on the Protocol Procedures, visit the City of Kingston website.”

Kingstonist reached out to John Done and William Florence of KCLC for comment on these developments. No response was received from Done by time of publication. Florence did respond, but declined to comment.

Kingstonist also inquired with Kingston Police as to whether any assaults at the encampment had been reported this morning, as has been reported by other news outlets, but was not observed by Kingstonist while at the encampment. No response was received by time of publication.

Kingstonist will continue to provide updated coverage of this situation.

With files from Cris Vilela and Tori Stafford.

Update (Thursday, Apr. 4, 2024, at 4:51 p.m.):

Kingston Police have now confirmed that no assaults at the Belle Park encampment were reported on either Tuesday, Apr. 2, or Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2024. Further, Kingstonist has learned that there are not daytime shelter spaces available at the Adelaide Street Shelter seven days a week, as the City of Kingston stated. Those spaces are in fact only open on Saturdays and Sundays. Further details available in our updated coverage here.

2 thoughts on “Kingston begins enforcement of daytime sheltering prohibition in City parks

  • Note: Adelaide Shelter is open during the day on the weekends only, from 9am.

    • Hi Monika,

      That’s correct. We were not able to verify the shelter capacity by time of publication, but the article was updated as soon as we learned that the daytime shelter options were only available on weekends. The City of Kingston reported those shelter spaces were open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, but that is not correct; shelter spaces are only available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays (for a maximum of 60 clients).

      Tori Stafford
      Editor
      Kingstonist

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