Rally at Belle Park calls for solidarity with occupants

Attendees at a rally to show support for the residents of Belle Park heard speeches and songs on the night of Tuesday, Jul. 7, 2020. Photo by Samantha Butler-Hassan

Approximately 200 people came out in solidarity with the homeless occupants of Belle Park at an on-site rally on the evening of Tuesday, Jul. 7, 2020.

Hosted by Mutual Aid Katarokwi Kingston (MAKK), the event saw park residents and community supporters take turns speaking and playing music before a masked, peaceful outdoor crowd. The event lasted approximately one hour.

Originally planned as a protest against an anticipated park eviction on Wednesday, Jun. 8, the event pivoted on last-minute news that evictions weren’t happening. The City of Kingston confirmed this to the Kingstonist over email Tuesday morning, in response to repeated inquiries on the future of Belle Park’s residents.

Jeremy Milloy of MAKK said the City had not, up to the time of the event, shared that information directly with park occupants.

“With respect to the City’s statement,” Milloy said, “it is unclear to us whether the City has informed residents of this. At [Monday’s] 4 p.m. meeting at the park, City staff could not definitively confirm no eviction would take place,” he said.

“If that is in fact the case, it is of course a welcome development. But it is not a permanent solution to the issues highlighted by the campers at Belle Park.”

Kingston City Councillors were absent from the event, participating in their own regularly scheduled weekly meeting. Council voted to extend a bylaw exception to allow camping at Belle Park for a third time, until Friday, Jul. 31, 2020.

Brockville City Councillor, Leigh Bursey, did attend the rally and step up to the mic, to sing and speak about housing options for municipalities.

“I was touched personally with homelessness as was my mother, who is here tonight,” Bursey said. “People wouldn’t be congregating in parks if they had somewhere safe to go.”

Bursey called shelters “an expensive way to not house people,” and suggested other strategies such as by-law amendments to allow tiny homes and modular housing.

Kristine Beddard, a grandmother of four and resident at the park, also spoke. She has camped all over Kingston since she was released from incarceration in 2012.

Maggie Halliday and Kristine Beddard are Belle Park residents who shared their insights at Tuesday night’s rally. Photo by Samantha Butler-Hassan

“I’ve lived in 18 or 20 different places,” she told the crowd. “I’ve camped all around KIMCO, I’ve camped all around the Frontenac mall. It’s safe to say if we get evicted from here, the mayor’s front lawn is where I’m going next.”

Maggie Halliday, who also lives at the camp, called on the community for patience while solutions are found. “We are getting lesser in numbers,” she said, noting eight campers had recently moved into shelters or housing, through cooperation with the City and their supportive community partners.

Nathan Rosevear, the camp’s de facto leader and organizer, also spoke. He said a solution would be a long-term process, and called for strength in the face of the challenges ahead. “I am not afraid of the City, I am not afraid of the police,” Rosevear told the crowd. He also suggested that Home Base Housing, the agency sending food, water and outreach workers to the camp twice a day, be disbanded.

Rosevear has earned wide respect from residents, supporters and outreach workers for his peace-keeping and leadership at the park. He told the City point blank at Monday night’s meeting that if there can be no quick solutions, there can be no quick evictions.

“As Nathan pointed out, this is a long-term process,” Milloy said at the end of Tuesday’s event. “It was wonderful to see everyone come out tonight in love and solidarity, and it was phenomenal to hear the voices and the stories and the testimonies of the people who are living here.”

“People taking care of each other is the foundation of strong communities,” Milloy said.

Samantha Butler-Hassan, Local Journalism Initiative

Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community. This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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