Community rallies behind encampments at Council meeting

Encampments next to the Integrated Care Hub will avoid eviction after a lengthy council meeting Thursday night.

A special meeting was called by City Council for Thursday evening to debate motions that would see another pause  put on the city's encampment protocol. 

Previously residents of the encampment were warned an eviction would be coming, and given $25 gift cards to a thrift store by bylaw officers.

Council heard from over 10 delegations in total, with most opposing eviction of the encampment residents. 

Consumption Treatment Services Coordinator at the Integrated Care Hub Justine McIsaac says the encampments allow the ICH's basic services to be accessible, and let's people maintain some independence.

She said quite simply if the evictions are carried out without feasible alternatives in place that there will be overdose deaths. 

"I believe that people will die at the cost of these evictions," McIsaac said to Council.

"Unless we can come up with some substantial, adequate housing in the meantime we're taking a great risk in regard to people's lives and their health conditions."

Some delegates accused Kingston of simply considering itself a progressive city and pleaded for them to actually act like it.

One homeowner in the region, Tammy Lunn, said she's disappointed to see council consider this without truly consulting neighbours.

Lunn said neighbours are suffering and feel unheard.

"I'd like to express my disappointment with City Council for once again putting forth motions that will directly affect my life, my health, my safety, my peaceful enjoyment of my home, and that of my community without consulting the community that's involved," Lunn said.

"I live very close to the Care Hub and I get to experience it after dark every night, and it's not all peaches and cream, and it's not all safe, and it's not all quiet."

Lunn said she's been stolen from by people who use the encampment, and that the police do nothing about the thefts.

She said, still, she has never been more torn about an issue.

"I know some of these people in those encampments, I grew up with many of them," Lunn said.

"I see the good of the ICH, but I also see the negative of the ICH. And what infuriates me is people don't see our side of it, they don't hear our side of it."

Lunn said that there's a double standard, that homeless people are routinely, often cruelly, pushed away from other neighbourhoods but expected to be commonplace in the Belle Park area.

Another neighbour, Tori Thornton, told council that she feels like that viewpoint from the neighbourhood has been heard more than the supportive voices around Belle Park.

"None of us have been invited to focus groups," Thornton said.

"Our care and concern and support for unhoused neighbours and resistance to evictions are never included in assessments or reports." 

Amanda Dorter, another homeowner in the area, said she's not sure if encampments will be a long term solution, but they're needed now.

"I'm not an expert in long term municipal housing strategies, but it's certainly necessary tomorrow," Dorter said.

A motion to put a pause on evictions until alternatives were found put forward by Councillor Jim Neill was argued to have too vague of a time frame by some councillors, and was amended to include staff reporting back to council by the end of Q3.

That motion came along with Councillor Stroud's proposed motion calling for a pause and a consultation with public health, the ICH, and encampment residents to help them find agreeable housing options.

Stroud's motion also includes establishing a set of rules deemed appropriate by those involved in the consultation, to hopefully help quell some of the concerns laid out by neighbours in the Belle Park area.

Nancy Smith, a resident of the encampment, said on Thursday she thinks something as simple as the city making more garbage cans available would go along way.

She says people consider it their home, and want to take care of it.

"I find when the garbage bin was here there was no garbage lying around," Smith said.

"Put the garbage bin there... that's why Kingston looks as dumpy as it does, because of the garbage."

Councillor Stroud's proposal including a six month pilot in the area was passed with an amendment that residents who live near the pilot are included in consultation, as was Neill's motion for a pause. 

Councillor Boehme added, however, that even in supporting an extension, this is an issue beyond the city's reach.

He encouraged people supporting the encampment to reach out to a higher level of government.

"I think we need to be realistic that there's no silver bullet here," Boehme said. 

"Reach out to MPP candidates, reach out to MP candidates... because the dollars, and the ideas, and the power to truly solve this and make a difference has to flow from that level down to the municipalities."

The owner of the property housing the Integrated Care Hub, Ben Pilon's BPE Development, is unable to allow encampments on the property, so any tents remaining will have to stay on city owned land nearby.

Story by Owen Fullerton, YGK News, for the Local Journalism Initiative

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  • Dinah Jansen
    published this page in News 2022-05-13 12:47:19 -0400