Encampment residents near ICH Kingston face impending eviction

Mayor Paterson calls on provincial government for healthcare support

An individual and their dog recieve heat in cold weather.

The City of Kingston is evicting an encampment of unhoused people next to the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) on March 21.

Comprised of a fire pit and a web of tarps, the encampment is located by a care hub that provides food, support, and a place to rest. The City imposed a bylaw last June to remove all encampments from the city but gave this site an extension while they built new shelters.

Resident Nancy Smith told The Journal she and her dog Remy have lived in the encampment since it first welcomed unhoused individuals approximately two years ago. Smith was offered a space in a shelter but chose not to go, as they didn’t allow pets.

“[Remy’s] like my baby, so I'm not gonna get rid of her just to have a place,” Smith said while covering her dog in a blanket.

Julia Christensen, associate professor of geography and planning at Queen’s, said in an interview with The Journal there are various reasons why unhoused people would prefer to “sleep rough,” or rest outside, to staying at a shelter.

Christensen’s area of research and knowledge is in northern housing and the homelessness sector. She offered insight on the urban landscape in Kingston, with respect to homelessness.

Only a few overnight shelters are pet friendly and provide support and companionship, Christensen said. Those with mental health diagnoses may find sleeping in tight spaces stressful or aggravating. For heterosexual couples, there might only be spaces in gender-specific shelters available.

Another large issue residents at the encampment face is the lack of storage provided for their belongings, according to Smith.

“We definitely need our own storage where we can put our personal stuff. You're only allowed two bags inside [the ICH],” she added.

Smith explained “stealing is a really bad problem,” so she brings her belongings with her everywhere.

Smith said the residents’ lives are dependent on staff and storage facilities available, and she felt there were organizational challenges.

“The first year I was here, it was really good because they did have structure. Now, what I don't understand is you can get help if you’re a user [of drugs]. But, if you don't use, it's like you're the piece of shit, because you’re not using,” Smith said.

Christensen said that any kind of substance use and perceived addiction to substances tends to affect the level of sympathy and support the public gives to unhoused people.

“It's a huge problem. There may be services in place to help keep people alive and keep people safe, who are using substances,” she added.

According to Christensen, members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, women, and youth face different risks while unhoused, which should be considered while making policies.

“When you close an encampment […] you’re pushing people who are already living on the margins of the community into the shadows,” Christensen said. “No one is choosing to be cold and hungry, and [have] health ailments.”

The ‘no camping’ bylaw was implemented in the interest of the community’s health and safety, Kingston’s Mayor Bryan Paterson said in an interview with The Journal.

“There have been bad actors that sometimes take advantage of people in vulnerable situations,” he said.

Concerns such as human trafficking, theft, and violent assaults pose risks to the encampment residents and nearby neighborhoods, according to Paterson. He said fires in the winter can put people at risk and become dangerous.

“Like in many other cities, we don't allow camping on public property,” he said. “[Our protocol] includes giving notice, offering other places they can go, and alternative options that might be available to them—obviously making sure it's done in a compassionate and respectful way.”

The city has invested “millions” into buying property for unhoused people, Paterson said. They partner with local organizations—like Tipi Moza, which provides affordable housing for Indigenous peoples—to create spaces for different needs.

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According to Paterson, previously, homelessness was mainly a poverty and housing issue, but it has evolved into a healthcare issue.

“The vast majority of people we see that are currently unhoused have other healthcare challenges, mental [illness] or addictions, or other trauma they've experienced.”

He said Kingston needs new healthcare resources to support unhoused people and allocating them falls outside municipal jurisdiction.

“Our call to the provincial government is asking for more help [...] We're doing what we can on the pure housing front, but the needs are so much more complex than just housing.”

“We really need the province to be able to address [healthcare].”

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