The City of Kingston has issued a trespass notice to dozens of people living in an encampment near the Integrated Care Hub (ICH), giving them until 5 p.m. Wednesday to leave.
Advocates estimate roughly 70 people have been camping near the site on Montreal Street in order to be close to the ICH which provides essentials including showers, food and spaces for sleeping.
"They will just move deeper and further into the woods, which puts them at greater risk for a variety of different things, including drug poisoning," said Justine McIsaac, coordinator of Consumption Treatment Services, Kingston's supervised injection site.
"It's just dangerous and we're literally putting people's lives at risk by by forcing this eviction."
The move was expected, according to Gilles Charette, executive director of Trellis HIV & Community Care, one of the groups that helps run the ICH.
In a media release the city stated the trespass notices are based on the city's encampment protocol and in line with a bylaw that prohibits camping in public parks.
It said $1.1 million was allocated to support transitional housing and services for people staying in city parks in June 2022.
New shelter spaces available
A separate media release shared the day before said more than 60 new drop-in and shelter beds are now available, with more expected to open later this month.
"Our goal is to ensure the safe relocation of those staying in the encampment," read a statement attributed to Curtis Smith, the city's director of licensing and enforcement services.
"We're grateful for the ongoing work of our community partners to assist individuals in accessing services that will aid their transition."
The announcement of the trespass order pointed to those new spaces and said city staff will work to help people in encampments access them ahead of the deadline.
After which, "sleeping or camping ... at Belle Park, the K&P Trail, or at any other city-owned park, will not be permitted," it notes.
Permanent housing needed, say advocates
Both McIsaac and Charette said it's great more shelter spaces are available, but underlined that few of those options are open to people who use substances.
They also shared concerns the trespass order risks criminalizing those who don't leave because they can't find another place to stay.
"While some of these options may be preferable to staying in the cold we really need to focus our efforts on housing, because overnight warming spaces, while helpful, are not housing," Charette said of the new shelter spots.
Staff at the ICH will continue to work with people staying in the encampment to access their options ahead of Wednesday, he added.
McIsaac said residents need to remember that unhoused people are their neighbours too.
"I will tell you the level of stress and distress that people feel," she said.
"One young female client who's been living in the woods for six months, said 'I need to go talk to the mayor, I have nowhere to go and if I go somewhere else, I may die.' That is the harshest reality of what we're dealing with here."
Dan Taekema is CBC Ottawa's reporter based in Kingston to cover the city and surrounding area. Have a story tip? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.