By June B. Bugg

(Mutual Aid Katarokwi, 2024)

Between the rise of tent cities in response to growing housing precarity during the ongoing pandemic and the student-led liberated zones sweeping across Universities all over the globe, encampments are becoming a popular topic of discourse. They represent a space outside the current status quo and the systems of domination we endure on a daily basis. Though there are significant distinctions between unhoused encampments and student protest encampments, both embody communal living and a reclamation of hope and autonomy.

On April 22 2024, in response to the severe police repression faced by Columbia University students protesting Israel’s genocide in Gaza, attendees of several other universities across the Eastern United States occupied their campuses and set up encampments in solidarity with those arrested. The State was quick to respond in the only way it knows how, with incredible violence – however this only strengthened the resolve within the movement, and pretty quickly, the solidarity encampment became a global phenomenon.

This is not the first time we’ve seen a proliferation of extralegal communal encampments in response to developing crises in the last decade. At the beginning of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns forced the closure of many shelters and social services and left huge populations without livelihoods. The result was an increase in housing precarity and houselessness, though as pointed out in the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s Overview of Encampments Across Canada, “the lack of comprehensive data on this urgent crisis is distressing.”[1] 

As with the student encampments, initial State responses to unhoused encampments were quite violent. In July of 2021, Toronto Police violently evicted the residents of the Lamport Stadium Park encampment despite the efforts of dozens of community members to repel the raid.[2] There have, however, been many legal challenges to the legitimacy of such raids. For example, in Katarokwi/Kingston, police have tried many times to clear the Belle Park encampment by the Integrated Care Hub. However, such evictions, which are supposedly in accordance with City of Kingston anti-camping bylaws, have been deemed illegal by Provincial courts.[3] This ruling did not dissuade the City from seeking other avenues to remove the Belle Park residents. In early 2024, the City announced that it would start enforcing day-time camping bylaws which would require residents to take down their tents and pack up all of their belongings each morning and set up again from scratch each evening. This cynical grasping at straws by the city and police was once again challenged on April 3rd when residents and community supporters prevented any daytime evictions from taking place[4], and thanks to a rotating shift of community volunteers keeping watch at park entrances, the encampment still stands as of the writing of this article.

When Queen’s students set up their Palestine solidarity encampment in the courtyard behind Reem’s (formerly Richardson) Hall on the 10th of May 2024, there was heavy harassment by campus security and rogue Zionists[5] – but somewhat surprisingly, the police seemed to keep their distance (with only a few exceptions). The Reem’s Hall encampment and liberated zone lasted 13 days, and was dispersed voluntarily by students as a tactical decision. Its legacy lives on.

Though there are significant distinctions between these two types of encampments, they both present themselves as powerful tools against various forms of repression. Encampments empower people to take a more communal approach to living by building strong connections and trust with those around them, while the forces of State and Capital seek to alienate and disempower. This trust and connection fosters a general sense of security among encampment residents and facilitates collective problem solving and, in some cases, highly effective forms of small scale mutual aid. At the Reem’s hall encampment students set up medical, food and water stations, anarchists set up a library tent and distributed literature, participants organized teach-ins, and barricades were erected to protect campers from any outside attacks by police, campus security and Zionists. In a statement about the decision to decamp, the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights group listed what they felt was achieved during the 13 day occupation. One achievement, though not directly related to their stated goals, was having “built a community of trust, support, and the principles of community care”.[6] This achievement is important as it demonstrates how we might build a new world without colonial and capitalist systems of domination.

There was also a level of cooperation and solidarity between the Reem’s Hall and Belle Park encampments. Community volunteers defending the Belle Park encampment coordinated to ensure they could support the Reem’s Hall movement while still having bodies at the Hub in case of further eviction attempts. Having access to more resources, the student encampment donated extra food and supplies to Belle Park, and after making the decision to tear down, donated anything left behind that may have been useful to residents at the other encampment.

I would, however, like to acknowledge a level of frustration primarily among frontline workers working with unhoused individuals in Katarokwi/Kingston about an apparent double standard in the general response to the Reem’s Hall encampment. After seeing their clients repeatedly harassed by police over the course of the pandemic with repeated attempts to evict and displace them, the fact that the State’s response to the student occupation from their perspective seemed timid, left a sour taste in some workers’ mouths. The lack of immediate police response to Reem’s encampment seemed to outline a double standard in how these bylaws were enforced and who they applied to. On one hand, you have a group of people with no other option but to encamp and sleep outside – a group of people whose very existence is constantly being challenged by colonial and capitalist institutions. On the other hand, you have a group of housed, fairly well off students who attend a prestigious university, and who, to some degree, benefit from these same institutions, using the encampment as a protest tactic. The student protesters, who had houses and beds to return to if their encampment was threatened, were not issued eviction notices by police, nor were they told to decamp during the day in accordance with the day-time camping bylaw that the City suddenly seems to care so much about.


(Art Against Apartheid YGK 2024)

                                                                                                                 (Art Against Apartheid YGK, 2024)


There’s obviously a lot of nuance here and I do not think that the positions of the students and Belle Park residents are opposed in any fundamental way. In fact, their struggles intersect in some pretty significant ways. The frontline workers I had these discussions with agree and support the student encampment and cause, but the frustration is still there and still very valid. One possible explanation for this apparent double standard is that it is an indirect result of the pushback police have been getting over Belle Park, that they fear what kind of response they would have gotten if they moved in to clear Reem’s encampment, but this is a somewhat weak speculation. There’s also the fact that by the time the encampment at Reem’s Hall was assembled, news of violent police repression leveled against students at solidarity encampments at several US and Canadian campuses was making international headlines, so deferring the task of brutalizing students to campus security could have also been a face-saving tactic on the part of Kingston Police, or a PR move by the university to not get police involved; more speculation. In all likelihood, this double standard is mostly due to the class disparity between the two encampments, but I do think these other factors are, to some extent, at play too.

To touch on the class factor: unhoused encampments present more of a long term problem for authorities and call into question the very notion of for profit housing and private land, two very fundamental aspects of colonial capitalism. On a federal level, housing is a protected right enshrined in section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the National Housing Strategy Act. However, as stated in the Overview of Encampments Across Canada referenced earlier, “the content of a right to adequate housing is not yet defined in Canadian law”. This seems intentionally ill defined, as the very notion of housing as a human right presents a contradiction to the for-profit housing model that the Canadian state relies on as a settler colony. The enclosure and appropriation of land for profit is foundational to the colonial project. Unhoused encampments by their very nature threaten to erode that foundation by demonstrating that a more community based approach to housing is possible.

The students encamped at Reem’s, although protesting colonialism in its most outwardly violent form, did not present as much of a material threat to its very nature. After all, Queen’s students, even the most disruptive, are still renters, workers, shoppers, restaurant goers and potential future home-owners. The unhoused, on the other hand, are what Marx would call a Relative Surplus Population, unusable by capital as both consumers and sources of labour. To me, this is the most pertinent distinction between these two manifestations of the encampment.

This class disparity being the most fundamental difference between the protest and unhoused encampment is naturally where other differences and idiosyncrasies emerge. For example, the Reem’s hall encampment had a particular goal: the divestment of Queen’s University from the State of Israel and companies that profit off its onslaught in Gaza. At Belle Park however, residents aren’t unified on any specific goals outside of survival, and it doesn’t make sense to expect them to be. To the unhoused, the encampment is an organic entity, emerging out of necessity at the nexus of intersecting social and economic crises. To students protesting genocide, the encampment does not emerge organically; it is constructed with intention and wielded towards a particular end. For Belle Park residents, the encampment is used defensively by marginalized people to shield themselves against the constant attacks by State and Capital, while for Queen’s students, it was used offensively as a weapon to escalate and leverage demands against these forces.

Differences in the internal organization of encampments is also influenced by class dynamics. People who are marginalized by poverty have to spend far more of their time fulfilling basic needs so have less time to spend on things like organizing mutual aid or coming up with systems for the disposal of waste, just as examples. Belle Park residents have to rely far more on external support from the greater community for these things, and often the greater community is split on the issue of homelessness and substance use. So, although a lot of support comes from the community outside the encampment, especially here in Katarokwi/Kingston, it’s also where a lot of the greatest pushback comes from.

Finally, I’d like to consider how the encampment facilitates and inspires the creation of art. Unhoused people often lack the space, resources and free time for leisure activities like the creation of art, however living in an encampment can alleviate some of these conditions. Shelters and temporary services often restrict the amount of belongings a person can bring in with them, and only offer temporary accommodations. Encampments, on the other hand, offer a more permanent space for people to exist and keep their belongings. With more space to store belongings, unhoused people can keep more than just what is necessary for survival, including things like art supplies or musical instruments. Having a more permanent space also lowers the likelihood of being displaced or shuffled between shelters and other temporary services, thus eliminating a lot of travel time unhoused people have to spend going between these spaces. Being sedentary frees up a lot of time to engage in art, but also provides more reasons to do so. When one has a space that feels more their own than a temporary shelter or hotel room, one might be more encouraged to decorate and personalize their space.

Though the conditions in student protest encampments are generally very different, they still have the tendency to produce art, though there are some key differences. Although a lot of the art produced in the protest encampment may be used to redecorate or change the aesthetic of the occupied space, this art is generally motivated by the goals of the encampment itself. The types of art produced at protest encampments usually include things like banners and signs with messaging and slogans on them, as well as murals and graffiti. These are usually made to be viewed by outside observers, whereas art at the unhoused encampment tends to be a lot more personal. Art at the protest encampment reflects the nature of the protest encampment itself: a means to an end, a tool to achieve a particular goal, though art tends to transcend any purpose we ascribe to it.

In writing this article, I’ve made a lot of generalizations, and although this is helpful for informing our analysis of the encampment as a concept, it’s important to remember that not everything stated here will ring true across the board. Encampments are highly localized and no two will be alike. How each encampment operates is highly informed by the people involved, the surrounding community and culture, as well as by local laws and institutions. It was especially difficult making generalizations about unhoused encampments because they can vary so much from place to place. Its amorphous nature is part of what makes the encampment such a versatile tool for our time, and what makes it so fascinating to think about and analyze. We live in an age where the housing crisis keeps getting worse and the public sphere continues to shrink, leaving more and more people on the fringes. An age where human rights abuses and plunder in the empire’s periphery are becoming more and more visible by those living in its center. So long as these conditions continue to exist, so too will the encampment. The encampment is not only an effective tool for survival and protest, it is also the canvas we use to paint a picture of a better world.

[1] Flynn, A., Hermer, J., Leblanc, C., MacDonald, S-A., Schwan, K., Van Wagner, E. 2022. Overview

of Encampments Across Canada: A Right to Housing Approach. The Office of the Federal Housing


[2] 26 arrested at Toronto’s Lamport Stadium park as city, police clear encampment. (2021, July 22). CBC.

[3] Peddigrew, R. (2023, December 4). Court decision stops Belle Park eviction. Global News.

[4] Gibson, S., & Davis, D. (2024, April 3). City of Kingston begins enforcing daytime camping ban, residents dig in. Global News.

[5] Cops Off Campus Ontario [@copsoffcampuson]. (2024, May 25) As the students at Queen’s University ended their 13 day long encampment, they shared with us photos, videos and information on policing, surveillance [infographic]. Instagram.

[6] SPHR Queen’s [@sphrqueens]. (2024, May 22) Read our full statement regarding our progress on divestment, our demands, and de-camping. See our press conference, shared earlier today [Infographic]. Instagram.

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