Residents of the many of tents and structures at Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Park had a rude awakening early this morning (just before sunrise early), as they were forced out of their makeshift homes by Toronto police.
Now, the estimated 20 to 25 people living in the park will have no choice but to seek refuge elsewhere; the hope is, in shelters across Toronto, say officials.
The City didn't act without warning; according to the City of Toronto, today's move represents the enforcement of trespass notices to those living in the encampment 10 days ago on June 12. According to the City, there are approximately 65 structures at the site.
In a Tweet, the City said that those who are displaced are being offered “safe, indoor space, with access to meals, showers and laundry, harm reduction, physical and mental health supports, and a housing worker.”
But that hasn't stopped the backlash to begin online, with concerned bystanders taking to social media to post videos of the countless police officers involved in the undertaking, questioning both the ethics behind this and the use of taxpayers' dollars.
According to the City, residents of the encampment are being given time to pack two bags of belongings to take with them. All other items will be collected and stored for up to 30 days for pick-up at a later time.
"The fencing going up at Trinity Bellwoods Park is to safely allow for cleaning. People are permitted to leave at any time. Safe, inside space remains available. The City’s Streets to Homes staff will accompany anyone accepting offers of inside space to a shelter or hotel," said the City in a recent Tweet.
As expected, passionate protestors are currently on scene, where a fence has been erected around the encampment. And some vocal neighbourhood residents aren't happy.
"As a resident of the neighbourhood and Toronto, I am appalled and ashamed by what is happening in Bellwoods right now. The abject callousness and cruelty of the city and Toronto police was traumatizing to witness," says Nadia Elkharadly, who saw the scene unfold this morning while walking her dog.
Elkharadly points to what she calls the "lack of logic and indiscriminate and irresponsible spending" of City tax dollars.
"The amount spent on police and private security, renting TTC buses, bringing in barricades and city workers; that is OUR TAX MONEY, that could be used in a constructive positive fashion to solve the housing crisis," she says. "Instead, it's being spent recklessly and foolishly. Raising people out of poverty means MORE healthy citizens contributing to our city and our tax base. Why can't our mayor and our government see that?"
The City says that the encampments pose a serious risk to residents. "As outlined in the recent City Manager’s report to City Council, encampments contravene several chapters of the Municipal Code and are not a solution to homelessness," reads a press release from Toronto officials. "The health outcomes for people who stay outside are complex and serious. Individuals living in encampments are also at risk of contracting COVID-19."
The risk of fires is also high, says the City. "There have been 114 fire events in encampments so far this year, including nine in the past week," reads the release. "In 2020, Toronto Fire Services responded to 253 fires in encampments – a 247 per cent increase over the same period in 2019. The risk of serious injury or death to residents of encampments, as a result of fire, is extremely high. Since 2010, seven people have lost their lives as a result of fires in encampments in Toronto."
The City currently has 6000 shelter spaces and says its shelters free of COVID outbreaks. Still, opponents and now former encampment residents themselves believe that parks are indeed safer spots than Toronto's shelters.
As the City highlights in the press release, since mid-December 2020 Toronto has opened 244 new affordable and supportive homes, including 100 modular housing units. "Currently, there are 82 projects in the City's affordable rental development pipeline, which will create 10,676 new permanently affordable rental homes once completed," it reads. "And over the next 12 months, the City is aiming to make at least 1,248 new permanent affordable and supportive housing opportunities ready for occupancy. This includes 798 net new affordable and supportive rental homes under the HousingTO action plan."
In the meantime, the action continues at Trinity Bellwoods.
More to come....