Mayor John Tory defends decision to clear homeless out of Rosedale Ravine Lands
City's move will hurt people living there, homeless advocates warn
Update: Shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday, city crews began clearing out encampments in the area of Rosedale Valley Road.
City crews begin cleaning up homeless encampments along Rosedale Valley Road. Piles of items have been left behind. One man searches for sharps in the debris. <a href="https://t.co/YYgMrVpxEz">pic.twitter.com/YYgMrVpxEz</a>—@LindaWardCBC
Toronto Mayor John Tory says the city will dismantle homeless encampments in Rosedale Ravine Lands on Tuesday despite advocates urging him to call off the move because they believe it will harm people living there.
Tory said the camps present health and safety concerns. Outreach staff visit them before crews begin their work to help people living there find shelter beds, he added.
"It is not safe and it is not appropriate to have people living in encampments in the city, so we go out about dismantling those, the city does, in a very orderly fashion," Tory told reporters on Monday.
"The decisions are made by professional public servants, there is lot of notice given and I can tell you right now that there is space ... specifically set aside, in shelters adequate to house all the people that will be dislocated."
According to spokesperson Brad Ross, people living in encampments in the area of Rosedale Valley Road were given 15 days notice that they had to leave, and staff believe that only person remains there. There is a lot of debris in the area, Ross added.
The move follows a report of a fire on the weekend.
The area to be cleared is in the Rosedale Ravine Lands near Sherbourne bridge, on both its north and south sides, and in Rosedale Ravine Lands Park near the Glen Road pedestrian bridge, the city said in an email.
Advocates, however, say the city is failing to realize that shelters are full, unsafe and chronically overcrowded and its 24-hour respite centres are at capacity as well.
People living outside 'can be supported,' street nurse says
Street nurse Cathy Crowe, a member of the Shelter and Housing Justice Network, said at a news conference in Lawren Harris Park that Toronto has a "mass homelessness" problem.
Crowe, who has written a book about the issue, A Knapsack Full of Dreams, Memoirs of a Street Nurse, said a petition urging the mayor to declare homelessness an emergency in Toronto has garnered about 22,500 signatures. She said 2,000 more shelter beds are needed.
"It's a myth for the city to be saying there are places for people to go in," Crowe said.
"We're asking for more funds for street outreach. We're asking for care and attention to be paid so that people can brought in, but people can be supported if they're still outside."
Yogi Acharya, spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, went further, saying the dismantling of homeless encampments is brutal. Shelter capacity in Toronto is insufficient and the housing market has eliminated options for poor and low-income people, he said.
Advocate calls for more shelter beds, affordable housing
"What the mayor and his administration aren't saying is that ... shelters and emergency spaces in this city remain full. They don't mention that conditions within these spaces are difficult and often unsafe and that's because of chronic overcrowding, short staffing and the general lack of resources that these spaces deal with," Acharya said.
"If the mayor and his administration don't want people to live in the ravines and under bridges, then they need to start adding adequate shelter beds and building rent-geared-to-income housing that people can actually afford."
Greg Cook, who is with a charity called Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto, quoted from a University of Colorado Denver research paper, Unhealthy by Design, that found taking away makeshift shelters, belongings and sleeping bags from people living outside prompts them to find more hidden places as sleeping locations.
That in turn leads to higher rates of robbery, assault and sexual assault as well as frostbite, dehydration and heat stroke.
"It doesn't matter the time of year. This kind of action harms people," Cook said.
As for the homeless people themselves, they say they have seen their fair share of sweeps.
Roger St. Louis, who has lived in Rosedale Ravine Lands area for three years, says he will just come right back after the crews leave.
"They'll be gone by three or four in the afternoon," he said.
Even if there was a lot of shelter spaces available, St. Louis said he prefers a life under the bridge.
"I don't want to be around 30 or 40 guys my age who are drinking. The bed bugs are incredible," he said.
City spokesperson Ross said many of the homeless people living in Rosedale Ravine Lands have "moved on" after the city gave them notice to leave. He said the clearing of the ravine is not being done because of a complaint about camping. He acknowledged that the shelter system is "near capacity."
"The solution to homelessness is, of course, affordable housing," Ross added.
With files from Ali Chiasson