Toronto is removing people from homeless encampments in Trinity Bellwoods Park
The City of Toronto is moving ahead with its controversial efforts to clear homeless encampments from parks around the city after the pandemic pushed our affordable housing crisis into full view, announcing Tuesday morning that it would be enforcing trespass notices doled out to those who have been living in Trinity Bellwoods Park.
The green space — a hot locale for young people to urinate on nearby private property and fail to pick up after themselves as they gather during lockdown — is one of four priority locations that officials have targeted with the new Pathway Inside program to house (or some would argue, displace and conceal) residents experiencing homelessness.
Authorities arrived in the park just before 8 a.m. to confront the 20 to 25 individuals estimated to currently inhabit some 65 structures, saying in a press release that they will all be offered "safe, indoor space, with access to meals, showers and laundry, harm reduction, physical and mental health supports, and a housing worker."
Locals and activists quickly banded together around the tents at the scene to prevent the clearing, leading to a standoff between residents and dozens of police and city staff who have appeared to establish a perimeter in the area.
Citizens have formed a human chain around the encampment to block any further action.
We need people down at Trinity Bellwood’s to protect our neighbours in encampments now. Check in with @ESN_TO follow organizers for updates. Police and city workers here in the hundreds preparing to forcibly remove folks from their homes. #topoli #onpoli #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/pyvkbbNBWA— Maya Menezes (@MayaLillianM) June 22, 2021
According to the city's release, people will have a chance to pack up their belongings, while all remaining items will be removed and stored for collection for 30 days.
"City parks must be safe and accessible to all residents of Toronto. The City will restore its parks while also helping as many people who are willing to accept the City's offers of support," the city's statement continues, adding that seven people have died as a result of 114 fires at encampments this year.
Citing health and safety issues at tent encampments alongside the fact that camping in public parks is technically illegal, the city has been working to move the thousands living outside into new shelter spaces freed up earlier this year after COVID social distancing concerns helped to perpetually render existing temporary housing at or near capacity.
But its tactics, including employing bulldozers and police and taking legal action against volunteers building tiny shelters for those in these settings, have heightened tensions surrounding what is already an extremely sensitive and divisive social issue.
Hundreds have opposed the park evictions, campaigning that they support their "neighbours in tents" and that removing them is robbing them of their dignity and the right to choose what they feel is the safest and best alternative in their situation.
Then there are those who feel that the tent encampments make parks look and feel "sketchy." But that NIMBYism also extends to the city's makeshift solutions, with some residents actively protesting new shelters in their neighbourhoods, which they say lead to increased crime and safety risks.
The complex issue serves to highlight, among other things, the urgent need for more housing and other supports in the city. But, as the city notes, encampments not only breach municipal code, but are not a long-term solution to homelessness.
"The City's response to encampments takes into consideration the health and well-being of those living outside and the broader community needs, including access to green space for safe outdoor recreation during the pandemic, and upcoming summer parks programming and permitting requirements including for summer camps," it says.
"The City has an interdivisional response to encampments and will enforce bylaws at encampments after exhausting all options to help people move from encampments to safer, indoor spaces. Space remains available for all those living in encampments in the City’s shelters and its hotel program."
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