Residents of Kingston encampment face uncertain future

Kingston's mayor says the city intends to move forward with plans to evict people living at an encampment near the Integrated Care Hub on Montreal Street. (Dan Taekema/CBC - image credit)
Kingston's mayor says the city intends to move forward with plans to evict people living at an encampment near the Integrated Care Hub on Montreal Street. (Dan Taekema/CBC - image credit)

Nicole Lavigne has been living off and on in the woods near the Integrated Care Hub in Kingston, Ont., for a couple of years. Now she's wondering where she'll go next.

The city plans to move forward with the planned eviction of people camping at Belle Park next week.

Removal of the tents and makeshift shelters was originally supposed to happen in January, but council voted to push that to the spring.

"Right now the direction of city council to staff is to proceed with removing encampments some time after March 21," Mayor Bryan Paterson said during an interview with CBC Radio's All In A Day on Wednesday.

Lavigne said she knows people who were camping in the park and have already moved deeper into the woods to avoid eviction.

"I think it's a terrible thing to do," she said, adding she's not sure what's going to happen after Tuesday.

"Hopefully there'll be no dangerous situations. A lot of [people] don't want to leave. They've made their homes here."

Dan Taekema/CBC
Dan Taekema/CBC

A Superior Court decision that barred the Region of Waterloo for carrying out a similar eviction in January had raised questions about whether Kingston could proceed at all.

Paterson pointed to the effort the city has made to provide more low-barrier shelter spaces, adding 50 new beds in recent months.

The new spots mean the city isn't in the same situation as Waterloo, he said, as the court found that municipality didn't have enough shelter spaces.

The low-barrier spaces are available for women, couples and those with pets. Meals, mental health supports and storage for belongings are also available, according to a city media release.

The city is also providing free transit for people who rely on services at the Integrated Care Hub and its supervised injection site, reads a statement from the mayor.

Paterson said the majority of people living in the encampment have left for a shelter.

"Staff still believe that the direction that council has given at this point is valid, given the fact that we are giving an alternative that works for the individuals there," the mayor said.

Fears of being separated from support

Kirk Sabiston disagrees. After living near the hub for months, he eventually found housing and now works at the hub, handing out harm reduction supplies and meals.

"I don't consider them low-barrier," he said of the new shelter beds. "I consider them medium-barrier [spaces]."

While more spaces will help, Sabiston said the solution is not enough and he's scared about what next week will look like.

He pointed out people who use substances don't follow a schedule, so relying on city-provided transport to get to the care hub might not work. Anyone caught using in a shelter will also get kicked out, Sabitson said.

Dan Taekema/CBC
Dan Taekema/CBC

Paterson, who put forward a successful proposal to declare a mental health and addictions crisis in January, said he recognizes shelters are not a long-term solution.

The city needs support from the provincial and federal governments to build more transitional and affordable housing, he added, but Kingston's calls for support have gone unheeded.

Lavigne said she and others living at the encampment see the homes they've built there as a stepping stone to something more permanent.

She still hopes the city will pause the eviction and let them stay rather than sending them to a series of shelters.

"This is what the hub is. I've seen people get IDs here. They've helped them with funding to get homes. They help them with applications," Lavigne said. "Why separate the people from it?"