liberty village toronto

Toronto neighbourhood has had enough of break-ins they say are from respite centre

One of the myriad side effects of the health crisis that has been more tangible and harder to ignore for Toronto residents is the city's homelessness crisis, now rendered even more visible in the form of encampments in major parks in a number of neighbourhoods.

Pandemic closures have meant job loss and financial precarity for a large segment of the population, all while shelters work to enforce physical distancing and other health and safety measures that have cut capacities and pushed more of our growing number of homeless onto the streets, perhaps the only place they can safely self-isolate.

Pair this with an increasingly toxic drug supply due to border restrictions and a surge of opioid-related deaths, and it's apparent that things have escalated for the city's most vulnerable.

As a result, the city has been opening more temporary housing facilities, drop-in and respite centres, which has in turn led to some instances of NIMBYism in areas like Midtown Toronto and Liberty Village.

Residents of the former neighbourhood even marched in the streets to protest two new shelters that they said were causing an uptick of crime that included two stabbings — one of a City staffer and one of a tenant — firearm offences, an overdose death and a two-alarm fire.

And in the latter neighbourhood, residents are noticing a rise in break-ins among local businesses in recent days, which, like in Midtown, some are blaming on a local respite centre on Fraser Ave.

"Fat Bastard Burrito was another victim of a window smash and grab last night," a Facebook user posted in the Liberty Village Residents Association group on Thursday. "This literally makes every business on the block a victim of the new respite centre."

The centre they're referring to is St. Felix, which is not in fact new, but has been in the community for two years.

Fat Bastard Burrito confirmed to blogTO that they and neighbouring business, INJapan, have experienced break-ins in recent days, though they cannot speculate for sure whether it was a resident of the centre.

"We're aware of the assumptions," Enrique Cochegrus, St. Felix director of communications says.

"We understand concerns about incidents that are a possible consequence of [our] residents — it’s valid to raise concerns, but the way they're referring to people experiencing homelessness is not okay... if you changed the word 'homeless' to a person’s skin colour or cultural background, it would be hate speech without a doubt."

The topic is a sensitive one, with Ontario courts just this week deciding that the City is allowed to evacuate park encampments if it so chooses, and various citizens and organizations passionate on both sides of the fence.

In the case of the recent Liberty Village incidents, there is the added tension of the fact that damage is being done to businesses that are already struggling right now, whoever the culprits of said damage may be.

"What a fun way to tell everyone how much you hate homeless people!," a user commented in the aforementioned Facebook thread.

"Nobody wants to see businesses broken into but that doesn't mean you get to point the blame at those seeking shelter in the respite centre or Lamport encampment. They are not the enemy — they are the ones in danger."

Others chimed in with their wishes for police to do more to secure the condo dense neighbourhood, making the divide among neighbours apparent.

But Cochegrus feels that instead of people pointing the finger at places like St. Felix and its residents, they should be looking for ways to support marginalized community members and work together towards a solution.

"What is sad and difficult is that many times people just want an immediate solution to their concerns without understanding that the situation is complex," he says.

"We have different ways for people to approach the organization, we have community engagement coordinators ready to respond to concerns, community safety teams monitoring the area... we do our best and are constantly taking actions to mitigate impacts on the community."

He also points out that the people complaining about the city's homeless are often only one or two major life events away from being in the same situation themselves.

"It could be anyone. People really should understand that no matter how well you’re doing in life at the moment, no one is completely protected from being one of them if something goes wrong," he says. "The real problem is poverty — it's not the people, the people are not the problem."

"If we go away as an organization, that's not going to take the problem away, it's going to make it worse. It should be a time for saying 'how can we support these organizations and these people?"

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