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Downtown Toronto residents pen letter to city over homeless encampment

Residents of a downtown Toronto neighbourhood are calling on the municipal government to take action when it comes to a homeless encampment located in their community.

The group, comprised of more than a dozen local businesses and residences, has penned a letter to Mayor Olivia Chow and other officials. It raises a number of significant safety concerns.

“Residents are experiencing fear, stress and anxiety from this encampment,” the letter reads in part.

Clarence Square Park, located near Front Street West and Spadina Avenue, is now largely occupied by tightly-situated tents.

The letter is also addressed to Spadina-Fort York councillor and Deputy Mayor Ausma Malik, Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw, MPP Chris Glover and MP Kevin Vuong.

Residents say they have witnessed a number of incidents over the past several months alone. Among them is an alleged physical assault on a female employee from a nearby business.

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Their major concerns also include harassment, human feces and urine in the park and tents being heated with propane tanks.

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“We would like this park cleaned up. We would like it to be a safe place again,” said Jason Backs, a property manager in the area and resident himself. “We would like to be able to take our children to the park.”

For now, that is not something he is entirely comfortable with.

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“Unfortunately, during COVID there was an explosion of tents,” he said. “Now they have a generator. There’s been a number of fires.”

Toronto Fire Services (TFS) confirms it recently responded to a fire at the encampment. Video obtained by Global News shows thick smoke billowing and flames. TFS tells us there were no reported injuries and a cause has not been determined.

Area resident Winnie McDonagh is among those calling for the park to be cleared.

“One of my original ideas when the armouries were being offered was just move the whole crew of them over to one of the armouries, so they can stay together,” McDonagh said during an interview.

Deputy Mayor Malik tells Global News in an email that while she understands and shares the concerns of residents, removing people from city parks without adequate indoor shelter and housing has not historically had lasting results.

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“Too often this approach has only resulted in new encampments in other parks. We need a multipronged approach to build a durable solution,” she wrote.

Malik says she has been in contact with the community, condo associations, property management companies, BIAs and local service providers for months. She says she has also been meeting regularly with city staff to accelerate work on more immediate measures.

This includes having outreach workers visiting the site daily, around-the-clock security, and having Toronto Fire visit the site for assessment and educational purposes, as well as the removal of propane tanks, butane cylinders and other fire hazards.

Outreach worker Lorraine Lam says while encampments are not an ideal solution, for some it is the only one available.

“Encampments are a symptom of a really, really deep housing crisis that we are in and that’s been worsening for decades,” she said.

While budget talks in the city have been largely focused on the property tax increase homeowners will have to bear, Lam also points to soaring rents.

“We’re in the middle of February right now and a lot of winter supports are going to close in April, leaving hundreds without options.”

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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