3 charged as City dismantles homeless encampment at Trinity Bellwoods Park

Toronto Police are raiding a homeless encampment at Trinity Bellwoods Park. Mel speaks with City of Toronto’s Chief Communications Officer, Brad Ross, to learn more about the ongoing situation.

By News Staff

Three people have been charged after confrontations between Toronto police and protesters as City of Toronto crews moved in Tuesday to evict those living in encampments at Trinity Bellwoods Park.

A 35-year-old woman was charged with assault with a weapon, a 23-year-old man is facing a charge of assaulting a peace officer while a 33-year-old man is facing two charges of weapons dangerous. Court dates for the people charged have not been provided yet.

According to reports, people have torn down the fences that were put up to stop people from moving and police has used pepper spray on protesters.

Just before 7 a.m., security staff began to enforce the trespass notices that were issued on June 12.

Officials said there are around 20-25 people living at the encampment, as well as 65 tents and other structures.

“We have safe indoor spaces for everybody who is encamped at Trinity Bellwoods Park. We have continued to engage with people in the park, [but] at some point we do need to enforce the park’s bylaw to ensure that our parks are accessible for all,” City spokesperson Brad Ross told Breakfast Television.

“We only do that when we have safe, indoor space for people to come into, either a shelter or hotel program … they will have access to a housing worker so that they can be housed. Affordable housing, supportive housing is the goal for all people who are experiencing homelessness.”

In a release, the City said those evicted from the encampment will have access to meals, showers, laundry services, harm reduction, as well as physical and mental health supports.

Those living at the encampment will be given three hours to gather their belongings and vacate the site. They will be able to take two bags with them, and the rest of their belongings will be collected and stored for up to 30 days to be picked up at a later date.

The City said police are on site to “ensure the safety of encampment residents and City workers.”

“The City remains focused on providing a human services response to encampments and peaceful, voluntary referrals for people sleeping outdoors to safer, inside space.”

Last month, a violent confrontation erupted as the City dismantled a homeless encampment at Lamport Stadium near King Street West and Dufferin Street. Three police officers suffered minor injuries, and one man was charged with assaulting an officer.

Encampments have popped up throughout the pandemic as more shelter-users take to the streets instead.

Ross said the City has been reaching out to those living in encampments since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

“We have referred more than 1,700 people into safe indoor spaces and we have found permanent housing for more than 5,500 people who were in the shelter system,” he said.

The high risk of fires at encampments across the city has been an increasing concern. One person died after a fire broke out at an encampment near Adelaide and Parliament streets in February. Since 2010, seven people died after fires broke out at various sites.

City officials said there have been 114 fire events in encampments so far this year, including nine in the past week. Last year, firefighters responded to 253 fires in encampments.

“Encampments are not safe … when you include the debris that has accumulated in encampments, as well as other combustibles like gasoline and propane tanks make these encampments incredibly unsafe, not just for people living in them but the first responders when they’re called and the general public,” Ross said.

“These parks need to be safe, they need to be accessible to every resident, and the park’s bylaw does allow the City to clear encampments because [they] are not permitted.”

The City is in the midst of a massive program to move as many people as it can out of congregate living situations such as shelters into hotel rooms and apartments.

However, advocates have criticized the City’s actions on the homeless front, accusing it of moving too slowly and leaving those inside shelters vulnerable to COVID-19.

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