The city spent nearly $2 million to remove homeless people from three large encampments in parks this summer, clean up debris and erect fencing, according to a new report released Friday.
The report details the final costs for the enforcement of trespassing notices to people who set up tents at Trinity Bellwoods Park, Alexandra Park and Lamport Stadium.
The financial breakdown included money for city and private security, Toronto Police, fire and paramedics, the removal of debris, and personal protective equipment. That total came to $840,127, with Trinity Bellwoods enforcement responsible for nearly half of that total.
The report notes that after the clearout, city staff had to take “unprecedented action” to clean up and remediate the three parks to enable general use by the public. That cost — $792,668 — included the removal of 30 tonnes of debris, and 25 tonnes of contaminated grass, soil and sand, the city report states.
Landscaping included the laying of seed and fertilizer, aeration and the inspection and in some cases removal of damaged trees.
Fencing costing $357,000 was put in place to keep people out of the parks and allow time to make the needed repairs, including landscaping, the city report says.
Since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, large numbers of homeless people set up tents and lived in these parks, with many complaining that they felt the city’s shelters were unsafe for them due their concerns about overcrowding, personal safety or the spread of the coronavirus.
But residents who rent or own homes near these parks complained the parks were taken over by homeless people, depriving them of places to congregate, play sports, walk their dogs and for their children to play in.
After simmer tensions came to a boil, the city along with Toronto police came in after issuing trespassing notices and removed the encampment dwellers — in late June at Trinity Bellwoods and late July at Alexandra Park and Lamport. The July 21 eviction turned violent with police using pepper spray on protesters and pushing them to the ground.
Over 20 people were arrested.
The parks were later opened to all residents, including for kids’ summer day camps at Alexandra Park that had been closed due to the encampments, a splash pad, pool, skateboard park and community garden. Permits to use Lamport’s sport field that had been cancelled during that encampment have since been resumed.
“City staff continue to help people move to safe indoor spaces and out of unsafe, unhealthy and illegal encampments,” the city report says.
The city says that since the start of the pandemic it has referred 835 people from four major encampments — including Moss Park, where tents are still in place — to indoor housing.
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A spokesperson for the city said the number of those people who remain housed wasn’t immediately available, but it’s a figure Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam wants Toronto to work on getting.
“I did submit an administrative inquiry letter, specifically asking (city staff) those questions — how many people were able to successfully gain a pathway indoors?” she asked.
“At the end of the day the time and energy spent — did we get the outcomes and have those results been sustained — are people still indoors?
“If the answer is no, that people left encampments but instead scattered under bridges or into ravines but not indoors to safe accommodations, then I don’t believe we entirely achieved our (goals),” Wong-Tam said in an interview.
The encampments contravene several chapters of the city’s Municipal Code and are “not a solution to homelessness,” the city report says.
“The city has released the costs of the three large encampment clearings so as to be fully accountable about what was needed to make sure city staff, homeless residents and the public were kept safe from protesters absolutely hell-bent on confronting authorities,” Mayor John Tory said in a statement Friday.
“The information released also shows the cost of repairing our parks from the damage caused over time by the encampments, in addition to the sacrifice made by many Toronto residents who were denied use of these public spaces for an extended period of time,” he went on to say.
But city councillor Josh Matlow took a different approach, tweeting that the money spent could have gone toward housing the homeless.
“It cost Toronto taxpayers $840,127.00 for 3 violent encampment clearings that simply pushed vulnerable people to our city’s laneways, streets and other parks.
“For the same cost, Toronto (could have) provided stable housing for 58 of these people in bachelor units at the CMHC average,” Matlow tweeted, referring to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a national housing agency that helps Canadians access affordable housing options.
Zoë Dodd, a harm reduction worker and a co-organizer of the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society, tweeted “the city admits they spent $2 million violently evicting about 60 people from the encampments in the parks. Imagine what we could have done with $2 million.”
In an interview, Cathy Crowe, a street nurse in Toronto, referred to the $840,000 price tag for the trespass enforcement and compared that to rent supplements for people in Toronto.
“If you take $600 for a (monthly) rent supplement and give that to people over a year, over 120 people could have been housed. That’s how I first looked at that number when I saw it,” Crowe said.
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