Belle Park’s remaining occupants and their community supporters are on high-alert. An early-morning visit from a City of Kingston clean-up crew on Thursday, Aug. 13 left them anticipating an imminent eviction.
Mutual Aid Katarokwi-Kingston (MAKK), a volunteer-run community support network, posted a call-to-action on their Facebook page on Sunday, Aug 16, 2020.
“Be ready to come to Belle Park early one morning this week to resist the City’s planned eviction,” their statement read.
“We expect this could take place as early as 7:30 or 8 a.m., and ask supporters and allies to… reach out to MAKK if you see the police and heavy equipment they used last week for their practice run, which they called a clean-up.”
On Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, City of Kingston dump trucks and heavy landscaping vehicles arrived at Belle Park shortly after 8:30 a.m. Their presence reportedly caused anxiety and confusion for the residents, as officials did not explain their presence for 45 minutes. At that time, officials reportedly told residents they would return in a week or more to fully dismantle the camp.
The number of people camping at Belle Park has significantly decreased since Friday, Jul. 31, 2020, the day they City’s new Integrated Services Hub at Artillery Park began 24-hour operation. It was also the last day of legal camping at the park, which has served as a City-sanctioned hub for Kingston’s unhoused population since early April.
From a peak of approximately 40 full-time occupants, there were roughly 15 people left camping there on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. Wooden shelters built by the park’s residents still stood in the parking lot.
Daily deliveries of food, water and supplies from City partners including Street Health and HIV / Aids Regional Services (HARS) moved to Artillery Park in the first week of August. The City has also cut off the water, power and additional garbage disposal they were previously providing at the park.
In a statement on Friday, Aug. 7, City of Kingston CAO Hurdle told the Kingstonist that City staff, with partners, had visited Belle Park the previous morning. “The discussion that we had with remaining people was positive, where people were available,” she said. “Staff were able to respond to various questions and concerns from individuals on the site.”
The City encouraged the park’s residents to transition to other shelters such as Artillery Park, the Kingston Youth Shelter or In From the Cold, while long-term housing solutions were sought.
City Council voted on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 to establish a permanent Integrated Services Hub at another location, before their tenure of the Artillery Park location expires on Thursday, Oct. 1.
“The City’s ‘transition plan’ is to forcefully remove people without real housing options. Shelters are not housing,” said the statement from MAKK. “It is violence and it is unnecessary. When the eviction starts we encourage anyone who can attend to come to Belle Park to slow down and turn back this attack on some of Kingston’s most vulnerable residents.”
Jeremy Milloy, a member of MAKK, explained that, while his organization respects and values the efforts being made by the City’s partner agencies in providing resources, it is the aspect of securing housing for those who remain at Belle Park that is of utmost concern.
“MAKK respects and appreciates the work being done by HARS, Street Health, and the city at the Integrated Services Hub. Our support for HARS, Street Health and the Integrated Services Hub is unequivocal and strong,” he said. “However, it’s important to remember that a shelter is not housing. Residents at Belle Park have demanded housing consistently all spring and summer, and we support that demand. Even with physical distancing, shelters are crowded. You get no say in your roommates, their numbers, or the rules you have to live under.”
Therein lies one of the biggest issues for those residing at Belle Park and others facing homelessness, and therefore for MAKK, Milloy explained.
“The lack of control in who you live with leads to conflict, and even when you’re not directly involved in the conflict, other people fighting in a confined space is stressful,” he expressed. “We have heard people say they’re sure they would go back to jail if they were in that environment. Being inside with others is understood by BP residents and public health officials alike to increase the risk of COVID transmission. It is also our understanding that storage provided is equivalent to about a 45-gallon drum. While this is an improvement, it is not enough storage for many residents’ possessions to be safe.”
City councilors and staff have previously stated that no one will be forcefully removed from Belle Park, though the bylaw exemption allowing them to camp expired on Friday, July 31, 2020.
“MAKK’s work at Belle Park always comes from a simple position – everyone, no matter their poverty or disadvantage, deserves a say in where they live and the conditions of their life. A forced eviction during a pandemic violates this position and we oppose it,” Milloy said. “One solution cannot and will not serve everyone’s needs. Housing is a human right. MAKK asks: Why are people without housing continually offered solutions that aren’t housing, where they have very limited control over their living conditions, and then asked why they won’t accept?”