Oakwood Village residents exploring solutions for people experiencing homelessness in Reggae Lane

Reggae Lane is one of many areas in Toronto seeing increased homelessness. While some residents just want the laneway cleared, others are vouching for a more meaningful approach and long-term solutions. The Green Line reports.

By Mahdis Habibinia, Aloysius Wong, and Anita Li of The Green Line

Reggae Lane, in the neighbourhood of Oakwood Village, a space filled with vibrant art celebrating Little Jamaica’s heritage and and Toronto’s reggae roots, is one of the many areas in Toronto that has seen an increase in people experiencing homelessness since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

But the community has provided an example of what can happen when neighbours come together to find solutions.

“To be honest, the energy in this place is terrible,” said Quilnous James, one of the residents. “Because of the people, there is [smoking], and people don’t feel safe to come around … People are scared.”

Recent data from the City of Toronto shows that between 700 and 800 new people are identified as experiencing homelessness each month, and the number of peope moved to permnent housing is far fewer, meaning more Torontonians are out in the cold.

Nearby residents of Reggae Lane say they have noticed more litter in the laneway and people they don’t know on their properties.

“We would come out to our backyard and find people had used our backyard as a toilet,” said resident Morgan Miya. “And so I started calling around. I called everywhere I could think of.”

Miya eventually got in touch with Councillor Josh Matlow’s office who represents the area.

“Reggae Lane was named to celebrate this community and the story of this community,” Matlow said. “The murals are here to celebrate those stories, but the laneway itself needs a lot of tender loving care.”

The City of Toronto partnered with local community agencies, such as the Business Improvement Area and the Metropolitan Action Committee, to clear the garbage and installed taller fences last year. It also plans to add sharp bins for hazardous materials.

“The activity has slowed down from my observations as far as coming on to private property,” said Miya.

The city is taking preventative measures too, by beautifying the space with more murals and extending CafeTO, the outdoor dining program, into Reggae Lane.

But while Miya said some of her neighbours want the area cleared of those who are unhoused and staying in Reggae Lane, others want to see better support for them.

“We have these safety audit walks or online meetings and they’re generally people who are directly affected,” said Mitra. “My approach is a successful, thriving community includes everybody and that’s not always the popular opinion.”

These residents say they believe the issue is access to affordable housing, which has been caused in part by gentrification.

“Affordable housing is the number one issue. We want to not just revitalize the businesses along Eglinton, but we want to save the affordability of this community for the folks who live here,” said Chair of Oakwood-Vaughan Community Organization Bill Worrell. “I guess we call ourselves a YIMBY community.”

Worrell also advocates for a “right to remain” policy, which requires developers to find places for people to live.

Matlow agrees that long-term systemic changes are needed.

“The real way to solve the homelessness crisis is to ensure that people have access to homes. There also are people who need access to mental health care and addiction support,” explained Matlow. “So when the city goes and forcibly clears an encampment in a park, those people don’t just disappear. Many of them will end up in lanes like Reggae Lane.”

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