City of Kingston beginning process to evict campers from Belle Park

The City of Kingston says it will be working over the next two weeks to evict the people currently camped out in the parking lot of Belle Park.

In early July, Kingston city council waived the parks by-law that would have prohibited the campsites, extending an exemption until July 31.

While campers were exempt during that time, City officials have maintained that the site is not suitable for camping because the park sits on an old landfill site.

Now, The City now says it will begin a gradual removal of some services at the park that were provided to help the people staying there during the pandemic.

CAO Lanie Hurdle maintains that allowing the campers to stay was always a short-term solution, given the challenges of COVID-19.

Still, ahead of the news, the campers got a show of solidarity Friday morning, as community groups held a press conference and a pancake breakfast.

Members of the Mutual Aid Katarokwi-Kingston group demanded that services remain, as long as the campers remain and resist eviction.

"We will continue to stand with the residents of Belle Park as long as they are here," said Dr. Eva Purkey, "and support their access to essential services."

Laura Mortley, another member, agreed.

"It is safer to be outside in a pandemic than to be in a shelter cooling center," she explained. "It’s safer to be together than to be alone in the woods, because people take care of each other. People can have company, or have the option of some privacy and space."

About 30 campers currently live at the encampment, which popped up in May. 

Peter Hern has been living at the camp for those three months; he says he cannot understand why the City cannot continue to find permanent housing solutions while the campers remain.

"This is the most stable place we’ve had in the last six months or year, these three months here, because I’ve had the experience of being bounced around the system," he explained. "Why can’t the program be transitional? You find me a place, make sure it’s wheelchair accessible and we’ll work together to make it my home? I don’t want to leave in a year."

In a press release, the City of Kingston said it would remove the portable washrooms at the park on Montreal St., as public washrooms are available in more places, now that the region has transitioned into Stage 3. The City also expects to remove the large garbage containers and temporary power from the site over the next two weeks.

"The main focus over the next couple of weeks will be to ensure a smooth transition for people to safer locations," the City said. 

"Although the process will be gradual, we are confident the options being provided and the ongoing efforts between community partners and the people at Belle Park to establish interim housing solutions will ultimately lead to safe and sustainable permanent housing. "

City staff will visit the campsite next week to discuss the transition with the campers.

The following options are being offered:

  • Shelters – The City says it is working to ensure there is enough shelter space for campers who may choose this option.
  • Integrated Care Hub – A drop-in support centre is available at 382 Bagot St. It is run by the HIV/AIDS Regional Services group (HARS) and is staffed with support from agencies such as Addiction and Mental Health Services, Home Base Housing, Street Health, Kingston Youth shelter and others.
  • Caseworkers – Caseworkers are being made available to help find solutions to individual needs.
  • Transportation – Home Base Housing has taxi chits available for people to access other services and who may have belongings that they want to store at Artillery Park.

Also in Kingston on Friday, provincial and federal ministers announced more support for permanent, affordable housing in the city.

More money for housing announced Friday

Officials announced that they would be spending more than $625,000 in a new 40-unit, mixed income building on Wright Cres., near Bath and Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway.

The building is expected to be completed by Fall of 2021.

"Home is a place of safety and refuge. Our government is dedicated to housing more Canadians which is why we are proud to have invested in this development in Kingston. These new units are more than just safe and affordable places to live, they are key to a better life for the residents who call them home," said Adam Vaughan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.

Provincial Housing Minister Steve Clark says it’s part of the Investment in Affordable Housing Program run by the two levels of government.

"We know that people across Ontario are struggling to find affordable housing they need," Clark said. "This investment in a new 40-unit community housing complex will create more homes for the people in Kingston who need it most."

City discouraging crowdsourced campaigns

The City of Kingston is discouraging crowdsourced fundraising efforts to build temporary wooden shelters and provide solar power to the campsite. Each crowdsourced campaign has already reached its intended fundraising goal.

The City says, "The responsibility of removing the erected structures will ultimately fall on the City as they clean and prepare Belle Park for safe public use. The more materials needing to be removed means further cost and time before the park is ready."

However, the City acknowledges that there is a desire among the community to help. The City is encouraging people donate to the United Way.