Opinion: The City of Kingston’s callous disregard – Ignoring expertise and advocacy in homelessness response

Signage at the encampment at Belle Park on April 3, 2024. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

Editor’s note: The following is a submitted op-ed piece from the Mutual Aid Katarokwi-Kingston and Kingston Encampment Support Network, in response to the City of Kingston’s enforcement of its daytime sheltering prohibition in public parks, and at Belle Park in particular. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.

The City of Kingston’s recent response to daytime sheltering at the encampment at Belle Park fails to address the urgent needs of our unhoused community members and recognize the numerous calls from medical professionals, legal experts, and community members to cease the enforcement of the daytime camping ban and prioritize supportive housing solutions. The City remains steadfast in its isolationist and punitive approach.

The City’s assertion that it is working with “multiple partners” rings hollow when key stakeholders, including health-care providers, legal advocates, and encampment residents, are not only consistently sidelined from decision-making processes but actively ignored, including:

  1. Health Providers Against Poverty: This network of several hundred healthcare providers recently criticized (March 28, 2024) the City’s enforcement of the daytime camping ban, arguing for a compassionate approach, urging for support for unhoused individuals, and advocating for housing as a human right. They emphasize the adverse health effects that eviction can have on individuals experiencing homelessness, including increased stress, exacerbation of mental health issues, and disruption of vital social support networks. 
  2. Doctors at Kingston Health Sciences Centre: Doctors have expressed grave concerns (April 4, 2024) regarding the health implications of such evictions, emphasizing the vulnerability of homeless individuals and the strain it places on healthcare systems. They argue that the eviction from Belle Park exacerbates existing health challenges faced by the homeless population, including increased risks of infectious diseases, mental health disorders, and substance abuse issues. They criticize evictions for disrupting the continuity of healthcare services for homeless individuals, as well as for neglecting the broader structural issues contributing to homelessness. They stress the importance of addressing homelessness as a public health issue and call for policies that uphold the health and dignity of this marginalized population.
  3. Canadian Civil Liberties Association: The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has recently voiced deep concern (April 5, 2024) regarding the City of Kingston’s actions in evicting homeless encampments. Citing potential violations of individuals’ civil liberties, the CCLA underscores the disproportionate impact of such evictions on vulnerable populations. They argue that these actions not only disregard the rights and dignity of homeless individuals but also exacerbate their already dire circumstances. Urging the city to adopt more compassionate and rights-respecting approaches to addressing homelessness, the CCLA emphasizes the importance of upholding civil liberties even in challenging social situations.
  4. The Office of the Federal Housing Advocate: A recent report (2024) from the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate, housed at the Canadian Human Rights Commission, expresses serious concern about daytime evictions of homeless encampments, highlighting that such actions disproportionately impact vulnerable individuals. They underscore the broader issue of cities resorting to eviction measures during the day, which can exacerbate the challenges faced by homeless populations. These evictions are criticized for potentially violating the civil liberties of homeless individuals and failing to address the root causes of homelessness.

The City’s persistence in pursuing daytime evictions demonstrates a deliberate disregard for health disparities and contributes to the perpetuation of systemic injustices against those experiencing severe poverty.

One has to wonder how much trust and confidence City of Kingston residents can have in a municipality that ignores the expertise of healthcare workers, doctors, the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate, legal experts, and civil liberties advocates. What we do not need to wonder about, however, is where the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on evictions could be redirected; the money spent on police, bylaw enforcement, city workers, legal expenses, and logistical and administrative costs associated with evictions could be spent on: 

  • Addressing root causes through comprehensive approaches that tackle systemic issues contributing to homelessness, such as accessible and affordable housing, poverty reduction strategies, anti-discrimination support, and social justice advocacy. 
  • Developing and implementing Harm Reduction Housing – supportive housing designed for people who use substances. There are models in other cities in Canada that help people stay housed and increase their wellness.
  • Requiring all municipally funded emergency shelter and response programs to attend harm reduction training provided by CTS staff (the local experts) and develop harm reduction policies to address practices that stigmatize and further harm people with substance use disorders
  • Programs and initiatives that uphold civil liberties and provide support services to homeless individuals.

Mutual Aid Katarokwi Kingston and the Kingston Encampment Support Network reiterate our commitment to advocating for compassionate and equitable solutions to homelessness in our community. We call on the City of Kingston to prioritize the well-being, dignity, and autonomy of all residents, including those experiencing homelessness, by immediately halting the enforcement of the daytime camping ban and making low-barrier housing options available that meet the co-occurring, complex needs of everyone living in encampments throughout the city.

Mutual Aid Katarokwi-Kingston and Kingston Encampment Support Network

Share your views! Submit a Letter to the Editor or an Op/Ed article to Kingstonist’s Editor-in-Chief Tori Stafford at [email protected].

3 thoughts on “Opinion: The City of Kingston’s callous disregard – Ignoring expertise and advocacy in homelessness response

  • What you need is money. Tax dollars from Kingston, grants from the Feds, donations from industry: Also new laws so the city can’t be sued when an illegal propane canister blows up or a fire erupts and kills someone.
    If Belle Park was sold to an individual or group it might be necessary to change the housing rules to accommodate ‘camping’. What other city-owned parks or spaces would be ripe for this, the one beside your homes? Where would it stop?

    I’ve tried to come up with answers to these questions and can’t. Please help

    The costs for separate housing for those with drug-issues from those w/o, the people w/ pets who can’t take pets into a regular shelter, the mentally ill who need specialized help but won’t seek it or take their meds regularly. These people are on the fringe of society for all kinds of reasons and they need different kinds of solutions. That costs BIG money!

    The city doesn’t have the money so they will raise our taxes. I’m ok with that, if it helps.

    Where are the plans from your ‘group’ to address these roadblocks?

  • Money is not the roadblock in assisting these unfortunate individuals. Attitude changes are required and the money can come more really available. Get someone at city hall who is compassionate and educated in these fields. Marmar.

    • I disagree, Marmar. Yes, these individuals will not be a voting block against any councillors but the public wants this dealt with and are pressuring council to act. There is some goodwill there, but no guidance or funds from provincial or federal gov’ts.

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