A rally was held on Friday evening in solidarity with unhoused residents living in the encampment next to the Integrated Care Hub.

The rally was organized by ICH encampment residents with the help of Mutual Aid Kingston-Katarokwi, citing fear that a large scale eviction could happen at virtually any moment.

The ICH, and specifically the community of tents that have sprung up next to the property, have been at the center of neighbouring complaints leading to the reinstatement of the city’s encampment protocol in July.

Since the protocol resumed, individuals and small collections of tents have been pushed off of public property by bylaw officers, however the city’s largest encampment filled with mostly clients of the Integrated Care Hub looks to have as many occupants as ever.

In a petition that has since garnered nearly 800 signatures, Mutual Aid Kingston-Katarokwi says smaller encampments have been evicted throughout the summer, and the City of Kingston has set a historical precedent of breaking up larger encampments in the fall.

The petition shares a letter attributed to ICH residents, who believe that they should be able to stay in place next to the services offered at the Integrated Care Hub.

“The City will say there are shelter beds and other housing options. These beds and options do NOT meet our needs!” the letter reads.

“We are sure that if the city goes on with the eviction people will die. Directly beside the ICH, encampment residents have access to life-saving services. The ICH staff have not only saved more than 600 people there, but have saved people in the encampment itself. Removed from our present location, where seconds count, lives will be at risk. If any of us die of an overdose because we were moved from the ICH, that will be the City’s fault.”

Residents of the encampment and ICH staff were among the speakers at Friday’s demonstration, with members of the community gathering to put forward their support.

Mutual Aid’s Sayyida Jaffer said when it comes to the city’s homeless, and particularly those struggling with mental health and addiction, people need to really try to differentiate between being uncomfortable and being unsafe.

“We need to insist that public space in Kingston is for everyone, for people who don’t have much private space to themselves at all,” Jaffer said to the crowd.

“I ask all of us who have come here in solidarity to work on on having those difficult conversations with your friends, neighbours, coworkers, about public space and how we can share it and support people in getting over their fear and misconceptions about people who are on the street for whatever reason… And to challenge ourselves to understand the difference between being uncomfortable and actually being unsafe.”

Residents and supporters have been concerned by comments made by Ruth Nordegraf, Director of Housing and Social Services, saying that while there is no firm deadline, the city has a responsibility to enforce the encampment protocol.

The City has highlighted an additional five sleeping cabins and progress towards the opening of a shelter operated by Dawn House, but that will still fall far short of the expanded shelter space and 54 additional transitional supportive housing options the city committed to having by fall of this year.

When the encampment protocol was resumed at the beginning of the summer Tom Greening, Executive Director of HomeBase Housing, said Street Outreach staff were being “pulled in a million directions” to try and assist unhoused residents, a job made more difficult by dispersing encampments.

Greening said while space can often be found to house people in tents, residents often don’t see it as an upgrade.

“The rental situation in the City of Kingston is terrible for persons with low income or with other support needs that have made housing in the past challenging,” Greening said.

“But it’s not the case that people can’t find a place to live… We are able to find places but they’re not great places by any means, quite the opposite…”

During the summer when evictions started taking place, Greening said the city’s lack of winter shelter space was already a concern that has become all too predictable.

“My concern, however, isn’t on the next week or two, or the next month as much as November/December,” Greening said.

“There are many people who do not have a skill set that would make it possible for them to safely stay outside during the winter. My concern is that we’re going to wait until the fall and then have this crisis, that’s not really a crisis we can see it today, but have this last minute scramble to try to find a much bigger space to shelter people this winter. I think we should be looking at that now and not waiting until November.”

Mutual Aid and encampment residents have asked for support by signing and sharing the petition, as well as by donating supplies and funds through Mutual Aid.