Residents, advocates wary as City of Kingston pauses encampment enforcement

Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

As the City of Kingston announces that they they are pausing bylaw enforcement actions while they consider next steps, Belle Park residents and advocates say they remain wary of the City’s intentions.

In a release on Saturday, Apr. 6, 2024, the City of Kingston stated, “City staff opted to temporarily suspend enforcement operations the past four days in a commitment to maintaining the safety and well-being of everyone including individuals sheltering in the park, advocates, staff, community partners and neighbours.”

Paige Agnew, Commissioner, Growth and Development Services, was quoted in the release as acknowledging that this shift in bylaw implementation was not part of the initial plan. “City staff have been explaining to people for a few weeks what will be happening this week and also distributing information about the ban on daytime camping in efforts to ensure lots of awareness,” said Agnew.

The reason noted in the release for the backpedaling on enforcement operations is that bylaw crews have “encountered significant challenges as groups of protesters have gathered at the entrances to Belle Park and have used logs to create barriers to entry.”

As a result, Agnew said, “We’re unable to move forward as we said we would. We acknowledge this may be causing confusion or distress for some people sheltering at Belle Park. The health and safety of everyone involved is extremely important to us.”

Sayyida Jaffer, who works at the Providence Centre for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation agreed that there is indeed distress amongst Belle Park residents, but disagreed that this is due to the pause in enforcement operations. “I see a lot of people who are in extreme distress, who are very scared and worried and don’t know where to turn, because this is their home… I’m part of the community coalition that is supporting the residents of Belle Park as we try to prevent daytime evictions, because we know that this action will cause a lot of harm in the lives of people who are the most vulnerable in our community,” said Jaffer.

Although the City is attempting to mitigate the strain on residents setting up camp each evening and tearing down each morning by providing some storage options, Jaffer insisted that this doesn’t cut it. “From what we can see, residents aren’t particularly interested in the storage options available. And that’s nothing against the workers from Home Base. They all seem like lovely people. But if you’re asking people to fit their life in three bins, and that they can only access those belongings from 9 to 11 a.m., and 6 to 8 p.m., and that larger storage items are stored off site, and you want them to sign a release saying that the City is not responsible for lost or stolen items — you can imagine why they may not want to pursue those options. Who of us would agree to say that some of our life is stored in another location that’s locked up and that we can’t access? It’s unfair and it’s undignified.”

The barrier to entry that was mentioned in the City’s release referred to encampment residents and advocates blocking access to a 360S waste services truck that arrived at Belle Park on the morning of Friday, Apr. 5, 2024, with a worker wanting to clear waste bins stationed on site.

Jaffer pushed back on the characterization of protesters as being unhelpful or making it difficult for City workers to safely engage residents. “You know, we haven’t impeded the outreach workers or other people to be in the park and doing things. They have been here. I think there’s this mischaracterization that we’re the obstacle, and that we’re doing something that residents don’t want, and that’s just not true.”

Indeed, while advocates and residents have blocked two gravel entrances to the encampment area typically used by vehicles, a third way, through the parking lot of the Integrated Care Hub, remained accessible by foot.

Jaffer also noted that there is intentionality in determining who should enter and who should not. “The people who’ve been turned away in terms of City workers are in large machinery trucks,” Jaffer stated, “who may or may not be coming into the park to enforce something, or to do something to prepare for enforcement, which is a very different process than having City administration and people with power in the City coming in to… have a conversation. A conversation is very different than saying we’re here to enforce the City’s bylaw… That’s not a conversation. That’s an imposition. And the people in the encampment also experience that as an act of aggression.”

Kingstonist photos from 9:55 a.m. on Friday, Apr. 5, 2024, the same time that the 360S truck was turned away, show that two of the large waste bins that the 360S truck was there to clear had nearly no trash in either, with two smaller bins only about one quarter filled.

Jaffer had noticed this as well. “To allow one truck in means that we would be physically vulnerable to letting any truck in… Environmental services sounds like a reasonable request and a need, but the waste bins don’t seem full right now.”

Jaffer reiterated that advocates and residents do not seek to turn away City workers across the board. “We are aware that there are staff at the City of Kingston who are working in environmental purposes in the Belle Park area, and they do important work related to keeping the river and the land clean, and we don’t want to obstruct that work,” Jaffer asserted. “We are willing to allow that work to take place. If we get a guarantee and a commitment from the City of Kingston, and Lanie Hurdle and Paige Agnew, that they will halt any plans for daytime evictions or work that supports daytime evictions… we will allow that work to take place because we support that. We care about the land and the water. That’s important to us too. But we just want to make sure that no evictions take place.”

Jaffer noted that some previous residents of the Belle Park encampment have indeed left, but that this can’t be seen as a success.

“[They’ve] set up in other locations… They’re trying to hide further and further into the woods. I’m worried about people who might die of drug poisoning, because they might be somewhere that no one can find them…. This encampment is not perfect. And yet it is also a place that keeps people safer. I think the term safe is misused a lot, but this encampment is safer for people than staying alone in further-away places. And we know there’s no daytime spots, there’s nowhere for people to go.”

Shelter spaces, whether for day or night, are inadequate for the need, Jaffer insisted. “We need to stop pretending that there’s enough shelter spaces in the city, that they’re consistently available, and that they’re appropriate for the needs of the people in the encampment. We know none of this is true. And we need to actually face what’s going on and work with the residents of the encampment, to meet their needs in a way that’s dignified and practical. This bylaw is totally impractical, and it’s also ableist. It doesn’t acknowledge or accommodate or recognize the disabilities that people in this encampment have with regard to physical wellness, emotional or mental wellness.”

The City’s release was clear that this pause is temporary; there is no intention to abandon the enforcement plans. “Notwithstanding the challenges, the City remains committed to applying the Parks Use By-Law’s prohibition on daytime sheltering in City parks. It also remains committed to supporting those impacted in a fair and reasonable way.”

Jaffer expressed empathy for all involved. “First and foremost, I have the deepest compassion for the people living in the encampment. I also have compassion for the workers who are being required to enforce something, whether or not they believe in it. I think that there’s a lot of differences of opinion amongst the frontline workers, and I think they can see the harm [that is occurring].”

Jaffer invited senior City officials to visit the encampment as they continue to decide on a path forward. “I would invite the City administration – City councillors, and the Mayor, and Lanie Hurdle, and Paige Agnew – to come down here and face the residents and to see what [conditions] they’re actually living in.”

The City of Kingston states that it remains dedicated to finding safe, supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.

One thought on “Residents, advocates wary as City of Kingston pauses encampment enforcement

  • Excellent report on the Belle Park encampment and protest. Thoughtful and balanced.

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