The City of Kingston is seeking a court order to evict residents living in the Belle Park encampment.
Kingston announced it’s bringing an application before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to remove the Belle Park encampment in a press release published June 1. The City issued trespass notices in March, but hasn’t forcibly removed any encampment residents to date.
The City and partnering agencies have relocated some encampment residents since issuing the notices. The City estimated approximately 25 individuals continued to reside at Belle Park as of the beginning of June.
“City staff continue to monitor shelter capacity daily, and while the number of available shelter beds at each location fluctuates, there has been consistent capacity at a variety of shelter locations over the last several months,” the City of Kingston said in a statement to The Journal.
Reporters from The Journal who visited Belle Park on June 10 estimated approximately 50 individuals were living at the encampment full-time. The City has yet to announce when it will file its eviction application with Ontario courts.
“In the interim, City staff and partner agencies will continue to work with the encampment residents to assess their needs and offer shelter and supports,” the City said.
Representing the encampment residents is the Kingston Community Legal Clinic, led by Kingston lawyer John Done. Done denied The Journal’s request for comment, saying talking to the press could impact his case.
Residents in Belle Park rely on the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) for necessities such as food, shelter, and bathroom use. The ICH is the only barrier-free shelter in Kingston, making it a hotspot for unhoused residents living with mental illness and drug use.
A Belle Park resident, “Uncle” Rick praised the Hub for providing encampment residents with healthcare. The facilities at the ICH are in demand and at risk of overuse, explained Rick. There is only one washer and dryer, and a need for the ICH to expand its services.
“I’d like to see Consumption and Treatment Services open 24 hours a day,” Rick said in an interview with The Journal. “You don’t be an addict between nine o’clock in the morning [and] nine o’clock at night, it doesn’t happen that way.”
Rick has taken on the responsibility of caring for the encampment. Rick mows the lawn and tidies up around the park. He is joined by Gayle, who lives in an apartment down the street. She told The Journal she spends her days at the park because of the community.
“You could offer me an apartment right now, free and clear paid and I probably still say no. I left my apartment and came here because once you’ve been here for so long, everybody becomes so much closer. It’s a part of everyday life,” Rick said.
Gayle credited the ICH with reducing her father’s drug use. She sees a drug supply containing fentanyl as a larger threat than any of the encampment’s residents.
Despite the sense of community encampment residents have fostered at Belle Park, it’s still a difficult place to live. The weather is a constant challenge, and last year Rick was stabbed.
According to Rick, the hardest part of living at the encampment is the stigma he and others face from the public.
“Being an addict is not only just being an addict. You’re an addict for a reason. Your reason is you’re trying to hide up the bad feelings, the bad thoughts in your head,” Rick said. “You can’t just frown down on somebody because they use drugs.”
Rick and Gayle requested to be referred to by their first names to protect their families from the stigma of having an unhoused relative.
Sayyida Jaffer, the leader for justice and poverty reduction at the Providence Centre for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC), emphasized the significance of residents’ needs being met.
“Right now, it seems the best option for people that they’re choosing for themselves, is outside of the Integrated Care Hub,” Jaffer said in an interview with The Journal.
While many Kingston shelters have a low barrier to entry, multiple shelters lack safe consumption drug space. Jaffer pointed to other shelters, such as Carole Anne’s Place in Hamilton, as an example of what’s possible.
“It’s a gentler and much better approach,” Jaffer said. “There are people who use substances. They have to define their own wellness journey, and we need to walk alongside them, because they’re the experts on their own lives.”
Jaffer warned of the risks of forcing unhoused residents to leave the Belle Park encampment, with one major risk being drug overdoses.
“Are we going to be a community that is caring and compassionate and wants to meet everyone’s needs?” Jaffer said. “Or is the City going to continue to try to hide homelessness? That’s not a solution.”
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