toronto tent city

Toronto is removing the homeless camp under the Gardiner

After months of debate over what should be done about the sprawling tent city beneath Toronto's Gardiner Expressway, City staffers are now starting to rid the area of "debris."

Crews were spotted under the busy raised roadway near Lakeshore Boulevard West and Lower Simcoe Street on Wednesday morning scooping up tents, blankets, cans, tarps, bike parts and other personal effects with a loading truck.

The homeless encampment had been dismantled by 12 p.m., according to The Star's Gilbert Ngabo.

Toronto's chief communications officer Brad Ross assured The Star that city workers would assist all of the camp's residents in finding somewhere to stay within the existing shelter system.

"We recognize that not all individuals are prepared to come inside, to engage with us," he said. "But we continue to work with them to provide whatever supports they may need."

Easier said than done, perhaps, with a severe shortage of beds at city-run shelters and most respite centres either at or past capacity.

The situation has become so dire in recent years that experts and advocates for people experiencing homelessness are asking the mayor to declare a state of emergency.

Some of those living under the Gardiner aren't convinced that the city can do much to help them, but they can't say they're surprised by the move.

Many were served notices back in January telling them that they had 14 days to remove their belongings and vacate the space, citing rule violations and safety concerns.

Multiple fires have broken out in Toronto underpasses over the past year as people outdoors try to stay warm in blistering winter weather. At least one of these fires resulted in death.

"Toronto has invested a lot of funds, resources and staffing to try and manage the current situation," said Paul Raftis, the city's general manager of shelter, support and housing, at the time.

He noted that, while clients may not get a spot immediately or in a location of their choosing, "generally there are emergency shelter beds available."

Only one camp was taken down today, according to the city, but others remain in the area for now and continue to be serviced by street outreach programs.

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