Rally planned in support of Integrated Care Hub encampment

Supporters of the Integrated Care Hub encampment and its residents will hold a rally on Friday evening amid fears of a potential eviction by City of Kingston staff. Photo via Mutual Aid Katarokwi-Kingston.

On Friday evening, Oct. 14, 2022, members of the community will come together with residents at the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) to show their support for those currently residing in an encampment that has been set up behind the ICH site. Friday’s rally is part of a call to action by local advocacy groups who are urging the City of Kingston to suspend any plans to evict unhoused residents currently living at the encampment. 

During a special meeting this past June, Kingston City Council suspended the pause it had previously placed on the City’s Encampment Protocol, a move which would allow City staff to evict those illegally camping on public property. Homelessness advocates, such as those with Mutual Aid Katarokwi-Kingston (MAKK), are concerned that the City will soon begin evicting those residing at the encampment near the ICH. 

“Since reactivating the encampment protocol at the June 29th Special Council Meeting, the City of Kingston has been evicting people who are unhoused from smaller park encampments in various communities. Given the City’s history of carrying out larger evictions in the Fall, there is fear and anticipation that the encampment at ICH and its residents are at risk,” event organizers say in a press release. 

The release continues, “Until the City changes its priorities and policies to meet people’s needs for barrier-free, geared-to-income housing options appropriate for all, we will continue to demand an immediate halt to evictions and a moratorium extended on the encampment protocol.”  

In terms of whether an eviction of the ICH encampment is imminent, Ruth Noordegraaf, the City’s Director of Housing and Social Services, said, “There are no firm deadlines to have those that are camping relocated.” However, Noordegraaf noted that, based on Council’s decision in June, staff have “a responsibility” to carry out the directions prescribed under the protocol. 

“The City is approaching the relocation and enforcement of the Encampment Protocol gradually,” Noordegraaf said. “Homelessness service providers are working on a case-by-case basis with individual residents to locate shelter and housing options that are safe and accessible to them. This process is currently under way at the ICH encampment.”

While the City has not officially confirmed an eviction of the encampment at the ICH, Clara Langley from MAKK said that “with the protocol in effect, there is always a threat of eviction, and we have seen the City carry out evictions of larger encampments, like the one currently near the ICH, before… We are trying to prepare in advance and build solidarity across the community for the moment that the City’s ‘when’ becomes ‘now.'” Friday’s rally is meant to show support for those currently residing at the ICH encampment while educating the public on the immediate needs of Kingston’s unhoused population. 

Kingstonist inquired about the City’s plans to address Kingston’s unhoused population with the winter months approaching in early September 2022. According to a statement from the City’s Housing and Social Services Department on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, “The City is working on multiple short- and long-term housing and shelter strategies to be seen in the coming weeks and months.” In partnership with Our Liveable Solutions, the City will add five additional sleeping cabins to the site at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour this fall, providing long-term shelter for people who are currently experiencing homelessness. 

The statement noted that work is also progressing on a shelter at 805 Ridley Drive. “This two-wing building is to be leased and operated by Dawn House. It is [expected to provide] 12 transitional/supportive housing units for women and children.”

Despite additional shelter spaces offered by the City, Langley noted that questions remain regarding the City’s response to the housing crisis. “At the June special meeting, the City committed to increase shelter spaces and provide 54 additional transitional supportive housing options by fall 2022. The City referred to the ‘By-Name List’ to suggest that there would be sufficient spaces to shelter everyone. What is the status of these options that the City promised?” The By-Name List is the document used by the City of Kingston to track the local homeless population. Decisions on shelter space and other services are often tied to the numbers identified through the list.

“We want to remind the City that they have a responsibility not only to provide enough emergency shelter spaces and transitional housing, but that these need to be spaces that are accessible and that can support people’s diverse needs, including the needs of people who use drugs or people who struggle in different ways,” added Langley. “The City needs to take seriously the need for longer-term solutions like barrier-free, affordable housing options that are appropriate for all. Until all people have appropriate alternatives, we demand an immediate halt on evictions, not just at the encampment by ICH, but across the city.”

Friday’s event also coincides with a petition that has been circulating online, calling for an end to encampment evictions at the ICH. “We support the encampment residents’ desire to stay where they are, beside life-saving services and together as a community. We agree with encampment residents’ and ICH staff concerns that an eviction during the current drug poisoning crisis will almost certainly cause preventable deaths,” the petition says. So far, more than 700 people have indicated support by adding their signatures.

The petition includes a letter signed by residents of the encampment, who note that many of the City’s current shelter options do not meet their needs. “These beds and options do NOT meet our needs! Some of us cannot be in these options because we have pets, because we have been banned, or because we find shelter rules really restrictive. None of these options have the community and support we’ve created for ourselves or the safety of ICH.”

The Rally in Solidarity with the ICH Encampment Community is set to run from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the parking lot of the ICH at 661 Montreal Street. Members of the public are encouraged to attend and show their support for the cause. There will be live music, as well as speeches from local advocates and encampment residents.

“There has been an outpouring of support for residents and their letter. We look forward to connecting more with the community tonight at the rally,” said Langley.

MAKK will also be accepting donations of supplies to assist with residents’ preparation for the winter months. Requested items include batteries, gel hand sanitizer, candles, hats, and mittens, Langley said.

With files from Tori Stafford.

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