https://ygknews.ca/2022/05/12/council-holding-special-meeting-regarding-belle-park-encampment/

Kingston City Council will come together this evening (Thursday) outside of regularly scheduled meetings to discuss ideas around the Belle Park encampment.

A number of tents are set up directly adjacent to the Integrated Care Hub, with some members of the city’s homeless community finding it a suitable location to both live in some sort of a community and to be within just a few steps of the ICH’s services.

Over the weekend, Mutual Aid Katarokwi became aware that bylaw officers visited the encampment on May 5, telling residents to expect eviction by bulldozer within the next week.

Though fears that evictions might take place over the weekend passed did not come to fruition, unhoused residents currently living in the park certainly don’t feel secure.

“Obviously for the folks living in tents it’s a lot of uncertainty,” Jeremy Milloy from Mutual Aid said.

“That’s hard to live with, not knowing what’s going to happen next.”

Nancy Smith, who lives in the encampment, says bylaw officers handed out $25 gift cards to the Goodway Thrift Store while giving eviction warnings.

“It was an insult, a slap in the face” Smith said.

Smith says she doesn’t know where people will go or what will happen if these evictions take place, other than that people will die.

“It seems like everywhere we go we get kicked out, there’s basically nowhere to go other than driving us back further,” Smith said.

“And the people that use fentanyl… they’re going to draw those people back and then there’s going to be ODs and then these people can’t respond quick enough to them.”

The encampment around the ICH has been at the center of complaints from neighbouring residents, though Smith says she sees neighbours constantly using the path without issue.

Milloy says he uses the path, and that the tents around it don’t get in the way, adding that the people in the encampment should be looked at as neighbours rather than as a problem.

In particular, he says the timing of choosing to return to enforcing the encampment protocol is beyond head scratching.

“This is a particularly irresponsible and dangerous time to be threatening people with eviction,” Milloy said.

“This is the worst wave of COVID that we’ve had in the region since the beginning of the pandemic so it doesn’t seem to be a good time to be disrupting people who are living outdoors which is a lot safer than living in maybe a crowded shelter…”

Milloy added that the current levels of drug toxicity are adding even more danger to the equation, with Kingston alone seeing 7 deaths in a 13 day span at the beginning of April.

Kingston City Staff could not be reached in time for comment on the timing, though it was confirmed by bylaw that no eviction or trespassing notices had been given in Belle Park recently

According to the city of Kingston, the goal of the encampment protocol is to “assist people camping in public spaces to access safer and healthier alternatives to living outside, including housing, support services and shelter. The protocol also provides a balance between the provision of supports to vulnerable populations camping in public spaces with the city’s desire to maintain intended access and use of public spaces.”

As of right now, advocates say that enforcement is being planned without any alternatives.

Tonight council will hear two motions that will look to provide those alternatives before any evictions take place.

A motion proposed by Councillor Jim Niell will look to put a pause on evictions until an alternative is identified, and a separate motion moved by Councillor Stroud plans for a review involving public health, the ICH, and Belle Park residents in order to determine how best to run a six month pilot for temporary shelter.

Smith says she would feel more secure to see council pass those motions, but that there are still no long term solutions on the table.

“Okay but after 6 months where are we going to go for the winter?” Smith questioned.

“Some people are here because of choice, and some of us are here because of necessity. This is my home right now, it’s awful. I’m 52 years old, I shouldn’t have to live this way.”

Council’s meeting will be starting imminently, set to kick off at 6 PM Thursday.

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