Security officers began Tuesday morning to evict about 100 squatters living in a vacant lot in Toronto's south end that has become known as "Tent City."

Over the past few years the land has become an enclave of homeless people living in ramshackle dwellings.

Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman said the city was prepared to help the squatters. "We've got shelter space available," he said.

"We are going to do everything we can to help these people with drug and alcohol addiction."

Security officers hired by Home Depot, the renovation supply and hardware company that owns the land, began removing the homeless people as police stood by to keep order and to arrest squatters resisting the eviction.

Police spokeswoman Louise Gray said the squatters would be removed within a few days.

Company 'within its rights'

Home Depot said it decided to force the squatters to leave for health and safety reasons.

The company said it had been trying to find a resolution to the occupation by working with various organizations and the city. But worsening problems with drugs and prostitution forced immediate action.

The mayor said the company was within its rights to act when and how it did.

"Home Depot has the right ... to have trespassers removed off their property, and they exercised that right today using their own people," Lastman said.

Lastman noted there had been illegal garbage dumping on the land, as well as illegal hydro hookups and a number of fire code violations.

The squatters built the shantytown rather than stay in homeless shelters.

City councillor Jack Layton, who is also running for the leadership of the federal NDP, said the evictions underline the homelessness problem in the city.

"As we've been pointing out for years, we need some affordable housing built," said Layton. "At least at Tent City they'd built themselves a warm place for the winter.

"Now some of them will likely end up in the streets."

In June, officials from the city, province and federal government vowed to clean up Tent City and other areas of Toronto's waterfront.