Amid tensions around Liberty Village respite centre, councillor promises changes

Tensions have been rising between some Liberty Village residents and businesses and a respite centre on Lake Shore Boulevard. Councillor Joe Cressy says needs on both sides need to be met and are promising changes.

Some residents believe recent uptick in crime is direct result of clients who live in the respite centre

Coun. Joe Cressy (Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York) said he is "glad" that Toronto police will not pursue the ShotSpotter technology to tackle gun violence. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

Ward 10 city councillor Joe Cressy is promising changes and an increase in community programs for Liberty Village as tensions continue to rise among some residents and businesses around a 24-hour respite centre near Lake Shore Boulevard West. 

"We need to ensure that we are caring for the most vulnerable and we also need to make sure our neighbourhoods are livable and safe," Cressy said. 

"We need to do both those things, not one or the other."

Some residents believe a recent uptick in crime is a direct result of the clients who live in the respite centre on Fraser Street, run by St. Felix Centre since December 2018. Toronto Police confirm they've received an increased number of calls for service in 14 Division over the past several month, though have not directly attributed those calls to the centre. 

Concerns flared after a picture of used needles on a city street in Liberty Village was posted to the Facebook group, Liberty Village Residents Association in July. 

"We've really seen a spike of community incidents over the past two to three months, as the weather got warmer and more people were hanging out outside," said Gabriela Gonzalez, president of the LVRA.

Some residents blame a 24-hour respite centre opened in December 2018 for an increase in crime and theft in Liberty Village. (CBC News)

Gonzalez said most residents welcome Toronto's homeless and vulnerable who may be clients at the respite centre but adds that residents also have a right to feel safe. 

"We remain a community that is open and understand that we live in a big city where there are real issues," she said. 

Gonzalez added that calls for the respite centre to be shut down are unrealistic and unproductive but rather that she would work with St. Felix staff to create a better environment for all. 

Cressy said he understands the frustrations of the residents but said that any future action must also deal with the realities of city-wide issues of poverty and harm reduction. 

A needle drop box is found outside of the respite centres in Liberty Village. (CBC News)

The councillor has reached out to stakeholders including residents, St. Felix Centre and Toronto Police and has committed to the following changes: 

  • Expansion of the community safety team staff, with daytime and overnight outreach
  • Establishing a "Who to call" list for condo boards and individual businesses
  • A needle pick-up program with St. Felix staff to conduct daily needle sweeps
  • St. Felix implementing a safe walk program
  • The hiring of four new Toronto Police neighbourhood resource officers by October

"Both shelters and respites are part of an emergency response — they are not the solution," Cressy said.  "You need to provide an entrance into a shelter but a pathway out. And that requires housing."

"When you're walking down the street and you find a discarded needle, that's scary. That's a very real concern," Cressy acknowledged.

But he says the city needs to work both to keep neighbourhoods safe and ensure it's caring for vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, who often face complex health needs. 

For her part, Gonzalez says that while many residents and business owners are happy that actions are being taken, they're also waiting to see whether the commitments will be kept.