As temperatures begin to rise in eastern Ontario, many people are leaving their homes and enjoying the outdoors.
This is also the case for the homeless population in Kingston, Ont., as many tell Global News they have left the shelter system to pitch a tent in city parks.
“The nights aren’t so bad now, and more people are coming here,” said Nathan Rosevear, who has been living in Belle Park for nearly a month.
According to Rosevear, the homeless encampment grew from a dozen or so people in early May to more than 40, something he attributes to the warm weather.
The Belle Park homeless camp isn’t alone. Others have sprung up around the city, although much smaller, at City Hall and in the barns at the Memorial Centre.
On Wednesday, Global News was given a tour of the barn encampment by Richard Hewitt, a Toronto native who has been homeless in Kingston for nine years.
“I spend the colder months in motels but recently set up here,” said Hewitt.
“I’ve been here for 11 weeks now.”
Recently, Hewitt says the City of Kingston handed him, and the two other people living in the Memorial Centre barns, a letter, telling them to leave and take all of their belongings by 11 am Wednesday morning.
“They’re not kicking us out yet,” said Hewitt.
As of late afternoon, there was no sight of bylaw enforcement.
Down the street at Belle Park, the dozens of tenants are permitted to stay until further notice, according to bylaw enforcement.
“At this point in time, the City of has identified this as a temporary solution, though we continue to look at options and if problems were to arise, would respond appropriately,” said Ruth Nordegraaf, director of Housing and Social Services for the City of Kingston.
As for physical distancing within the homeless encampments, that remains a glaring issue — something the local medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, and his team are keeping a close eye on.
“It is a public health risk. There is a risk of transmitting multiple different infections, including COVID-19,” said Moore via Skype.
Dr. Moore says he has teamed up with addictions and mental health services and Frontenac paramedics over the last few weeks to test the campers for COVID-19.
“No one was interested at the time. They also monitored anyone with symptoms of respiratory infections, and they did not detect anyone,” said More.
As for what’s next for Hewitt, if he is forced to pack up and leave the barn, he tells Global News that he will look to move to his hometown of Toronto to be closer to friends and family.