After 71 days without disruption, those who remain living at the encampment in Belle Park received trespass notices on the morning of Wednesday, Mar. 22, 2023, the day after the moratorium on the City of Kingston’s Encampment Protocol ended.
But in that number of days, nearly the same number of people have vacated the encampment, according to officials with the City. The total occupancy at the encampment swelled to as large as 75 people before City Council voted in favour of the moratorium – or ‘putting evictions on pause,’ as it has been referred to – on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.
When Kingstonist spoke with City of Kingston Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Lanie Hurdle ahead of the moratorium end date, Hurdle estimated that number had shrunk to approximately 15 to 20 people. On Wednesday morning, when City of Kingston staff visited the encampment around 10:30 a.m., there were six people present, Hurdle said.
“Now, there are obviously other structures still in place, there are some tents and things, but we didn’t see anybody around them,” Hurdle detailed. “So, it’s hard to know if people are still living there, but just not in [the tents or area] right now… So, we did leave some additional [trespass] notices to attach to these structures, because someone may still be there, they were just away when we visited.”
In total, six people were issued trespass notices, which stipulate a move-out deadline of Monday, Mar. 27, 2023. Additionally, information on the services and supports available locally was disseminated to those in the area, as well as information on storage options for those with items there. As the City moves into the clean-up phase at the Belle Park site, the storage options available through the City of Kingston are intended to allow some additional time to make relocation arrangements for those who need it.
“There is a lot of garbage that is on the property, which is public property and is also connected to a trail system,” said Hurdle. “So, the City will be clearing the garbage [out], that’s for sure.”
Asked when the clean-up efforts will begin, Hurdle said that City staff had initially planned to begin that work this week, however, they decided to delay that until next week in order to allow more time for those living at the encampment to plan and prepare.
“So, if people see [City] trucks coming in [to Belle Park], that’s why… I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to leave garbage on the ground unattended for months,” she said.
Clean-up efforts are to begin the same day as the trespass notice deadline, on Monday, Mar. 27, 2023. But City of Kingston staff will not be physically removing people from the site, Hurdle underlined.
“That is not our intention, that has never been our intention,” Hurdle emphasized, noting that she doesn’t think the general population of Kingston has any idea how many of those once living at the encampment have moved on.
As directed by Council at the Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2022, meeting, City staff have worked diligently with partner agencies and services – Street Health, Addictions and Mental Health Services KFL&A, and a handful of shelter and housing partners – to come up with housing or shelter solutions for those living rough at Belle Park, Hurdle said. And while not all of the shelters in Kingston currently have space available, there is more than enough space in the housing and shelter system to support the six to 10 people who currently reside at the encampment.
“We’ve seen a significant uptake in our shelter system, based on people that have relocated from the encampment,” she confirmed. “We do try our best, we really do.”
As clean-up efforts move forward, Hurdle cautioned, people will see Kingston Police officers in and around the Belle Park and Integrated Care Hub (ICH) area. But she emphasized again that this will have nothing to do with physically removing people from the property.
“As you know, there have been incidents of crime at the encampment,” Hurdle said. “We will have police there during cleanup, for the safety of everyone. It’s a stressful situation for the people that live there, and we don’t want anything to happen or anyone to get hurt moving out or while we clean up.”
Hurdle clarified, again with emphasis, that police will not be present solely to protect City staff as they carry out their work – police will be acting in their role as peace officers, she said, should any issues arise, such as disagreements over who owns items, etc.
“As staff are going to be going back to the property, talking to people, strongly encouraging them to relocate and removing some of the garbage, we want to make sure that can happen peacefully and without violence. So, the safety – everybody’s safety – is really critical,” she expressed.
“The police will not be active in this in this process, but they will be present to provide support if needed.”
More information on housing and shelter services and supports from the City of Kingston can be viewed here. A complete listing of shelters and warm-up/cool-down services available locally can be viewed here.