cabbagetown south toronto

Toronto neighbourhood hires private security guards to deter rampant drug use

For all of its gorgeous Victorian homes, quirky boutiques and proximity to parks, residents of Toronto's Cabbagetown South neighbourhood say it's tough living in an area where open, illegal drug use is rampant.

Like nearby Moss Park (and many other neighbourhoods in Toronto, mind you) Cabbagetown South is frequently littered with paraphernalia such as needles and debris.

Attempted break-ins and scary encounters are common, according to those who live in the neighbourhood, and many no longer feel safe.

"Long time residents will no longer walk to the store for milk after dark," says David Saad, who is spearheading a new campaign to increase security in the area.

"Everyone has had at least minor theft/vandalism happen and the number of needles in the park are often in the dozens on a Sunday morning, as well as plenty of needles to be found on people's lawns and driveways."

Saad says the city has promised help "soon" by way of crisis teams and a new addictions centre (Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam did not return a request for comment in time for publication) but "soon" isn't fast enough.

So, frustrated with a lack of action from the city, Saad and his neighbours started a GoFundMe campaign to hire private security for the residential areas bordered (roughly) by Parliament, Sherbourne, Dundas and Shuter Streets.

The campaign initially stated that having private guards on patrol would "disrupt illegal activities in our neighborhood by witnessing and alerting police about Fentanyl Dealers, suspicious activity, including people 'casing homes', Drug users 'partying'/using IV drugs in groups in the alleys and parks" among other things.

It also stressed the importance of hiring guards trained in CPR and First Aid so "they have the ability to aid people in distress and alert paramedics and/or police if and when necessary, including, but not limited to: Overdoses, Accidents/Falls, Assaults and more."

The message was removed early this week to reveal that a security guard had in fact already been hired and was "performing safety patrols at night."

"Starting in November, a small group of neighbors got together and engaged private security company, Primary Defense Corp., to patrol Seaton, Ontario, Milan, Berkeley & Poulette Streets between Dundas and Shuter," it reads.

"During the hours which our security guard was on duty, there have been: no overdoses or overdose deaths, no break ins, no thefts, no assaults."

According to the GoFundMe, this security patrol costs approximately $205 per night. To date, $1,090 of a $10,000 target has been raised.

"The Private Security Guard is trained in CPR and First Aid. They have the ability to aid people in distress, alert paramedics and/or police, kindly discourage trespassing and loitering, and act as our eyes and ears while we are sleeping," reads the campaign page.

"If we can reach our initial goal of $10,660 it will pay for security two random nights per week for six months... Our ultimate goal? If we can get to $74,825, we can pay for security SEVEN nights a week for ONE YEAR!"

It is of note that the community already has eight TPS Neighbourhood Community Officers.

The Cabbagetown South Residents Association actively encourages residents to call police directly over "ongoing issues such as noise complaints, street level prostitution or drug dealing," noting that "the more calls they receive from a particular neighbourhood, the more patrols that neighbourhood receives."

While it's hard to pin such troubles on one particular park, block, homeless shelter or, as it were, overdose prevention site, Toronto Police statistics show that crime rates have been rising steadily in Cabbagetown South-St. James Town since 2014.

TPS 51 Division — which encompasses both Cabbagetown South and Moss Park — has seen the highest number of assaults in Toronto so far this year with 2,053 offences logged.

Some 663 break-and-enters, 350 robberies, 130 auto thefts, 195 sexual violations and 85 instances of theft over $5,000 had also been logged through the TPS Public Data Safety portal in 2020 as of Sunday, December 14.

Toronto Police announced in August that two CCTV cameras would be installed in the area to deter crime and increase public safety, but the installation of these cameras has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saad says he and his neighbours aren't content to wait any longer for help.

"People who have lived in the area for years or even decades all say the same thing: 'We have never seen it this bad.'," he told blogTO.

"I used to brag that 'I live in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Toronto, but I don't mind if my kids go out at 11pm to get a burger.' This is simply no longer the case."

Lead photo by

Danielle Unsworth

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