A security fence enclosing a large section of Trinity Bellwoods Park will remain for the next few weeks because city crews have reseeded the grass in that area and the fence will protect it as it grows, the city of Toronto says.
The metal fence was erected in the south end of the park nearly two weeks ago when Toronto police officers, city workers and private security guards cleared a homeless encampment there by force on Tuesday, June 22. Another fence has enclosed a smaller area in the north end of the park.
Brad Ross, spokesperson for the city, said on Monday that the fence in the south end is all about protecting the grass. Homeless advocates, however, have said the city has set up the fence there because it is determined to keep unhoused people from camping in that area again.
“We have reseeded the grass and it’s going to be up for a few more weeks yet while the seeding takes hold. Until that time, we’re leaving the fencing up,” Ross told CBC Toronto.
“We have security guards there to ensure that people aren’t trespassing or tearing the fencing down or anything like that. It’s really as simple as that,” he continued.
Ross said the city is tallying the cost of clearing the Trinity Bellwoods Park encampment, including overtime costs. On Monday, he was unable to provide an estimate of the cost of the fencing or the security guards stationed there since the encampment was cleared.
“We should have that very soon, I hope, and that we’ll be able to share that,” Ross said. “Once we have all of that in order, then we’re happy to share that.”
Brute force not solution to homelessness, residents say
Former Trinity Bellwoods encampment residents, for their part, have said the real solution to homelessness is permanent or rent-geared-to-income housing, not taxpayers’ money spent on police on horses and on private security guards harassing and displacing poor people.
Asked if there were any lessons learned from the encampment clearing, which was criticized by at least one newspaper columnist as heavy-handed and mean-spirited, Ross said it was an exercise in maintaining public safety.
“The reason that we had the police there was to ensure the safety of the city staff who were engaging with residents who were in the encampment, encouraging them to voluntarily come inside to safe space,” he said.
Ross said 14 people accepted referrals to shelter or hotel programs and police have said there were three arrests.The city has yet to indicate where those programs are located and how those encampment residents are now faring inside.
“All in all, I think the City of Toronto’s goal in all of this is get people to come inside where it is safe,” Ross said.
“Reflecting back, again, 14 people were housed. We were met with protesters. If we weren’t met with protesters, there wouldn’t be a need for policing. We would have been able to engage with people as we have been doing throughout the pandemic.”
The city considers encampments to be unsafe and unlawful, saying there have been fires, and encampments lack access to water and sanitation. Under Toronto’s parks bylaw and street-use bylaw, people are not allowed to erect structures on city property.
In addition to Trinity Bellwoods, the city has issued notices under Ontario’s Trespass to Property Act to encampments at Lamport Stadium, Moss Park and Alexandra Park. The city has not indicated when it will clear the next encampment.
“When we do enforce the next trespass notice in a park, we remain incredibly hopeful that this will happen peacefully,” Ross said.
City needs to negotiate in good faith, advocate says
Doug Johnson Hatlem, street pastor with Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto, said the fence is in place to keep unhoused people out.
“It’s high time for the city to come to the table in good faith to negotiate with those who have good reason not to use shelters or for whom there is no shelter space,” Hatlem said on Monday.
Sara Frank, a volunteer with the Encampment Support Network in Trinity Bellwoods, said the fence is keeping all people from enjoying the park and it’s disingenuous for the city to pretend it is concerned about green space when it has uprooted a community garden near the greenhouse in the park.
“People need housing,” she said on Monday. “Rent geared to income is what people are saying they want.”