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Kingston homeless encampment comes together in Belle Park

Click to play video: 'Homeless camp forms in Kingston’s Belle Park' Homeless camp forms in Kingston’s Belle Park
WATCH: Off of Montreal St., a large homeless camp can be seen in Belle Park. Monday, Global News was given a tour of the camp and told why they've congregated in the park. – May 4, 2020

Belle Park in Kingston, Ont., has become home to a group of people living in tents.

On Monday, Global News was given a tour by one of the residents who says the number of people has grown in recent weeks after shelters began enforcing strict social distancing guidelines.

“They want these people to be in isolation cells, but we just don’t belong there,” said Nathan, who is living in Belle Park.

READ MORE: Kingston set to open 2 self-isolation centres: ‘We need a place for our city’s most vulnerable’

Nathan, who wouldn’t provide his last name, showed the tent he built in the park out of black tarps and wood planks. It’s a place he’s called home for just over one week.

Closer to the entrance of the park are multiple tents that Nathan says house around 12 people, all of whom feel the same way about the city’s shelters and isolation centre rules.

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“Some of these people don’t really enjoy the survival stuff, so they’re suffering,” Nathan said.

“We’re being safe, and I don’t mind being outside now that it’s getting warmer.”

READ MORE: Kingston homeless man describes pandemic experience: ‘I just want a place to call my own’

Over the last month, the City of Kingston has been overseeing a physical distancing centre for the community’s homeless population.

The vacant Fairfield Manor West has been home to those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms and do not have a safe place to isolate.

Click to play video: '“I just want a place to call my own,” says homeless man living in Kingston.' “I just want a place to call my own,” says homeless man living in Kingston.
“I just want a place to call my own,” says homeless man living in Kingston – Apr 24, 2020

According to Joanna Borris, the city’s housing program administrator, the virus has created challenges for the shelters, but they’ve initiated several avenues to help prevent an outbreak, other than the physical distancing centre.

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“We’ve moved the shelter locations to areas where there is no longer large congregate living situations,” Borris said.

“McClain’s court in the east end of Kingston for adults has 35 individual rooms, each with their own bathroom, so that people do have space, privacy, dignity — something that people living in the park might not know about.”

Borris says outreach workers are visiting Belle Park twice a day to speak to the group about best practices, all while delivering meals and water.

The city has also provided a portable washroom and a handwashing station.

READ MORE: City of Kingston aims to open second temporary homeless shelter during COVID-19 pandemic

“People complain about how this looks, and the city has been around talking to us, and next thing you know, the police will be here,” said Nathan when asked how the community has reacted to tent city.

On Monday afternoon, the city’s licence and enforcement supervisor, Mark Hazell,  said in an email that the camping in Belle Park has been temporally allowed, and the campers are permitted to stay until further notice.

“Resident safety is paramount and the City will continue to encourage individuals to access shelter and support, to ensure that they are following physical distancing guidelines,” said Hazell.

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