“Like we live in a nightmare”: Residents of downtown Toronto are fed up with crime and vandalism near shelters

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Despite the City of Toronto’s pledge to step up security measures in Midtown, where three city-run homeless shelters have opened, many residents and business owners say they have had enough of it. which they say is an increase in crime in the area. and remain concerned about security.Within a week, a city worker was hospitalized after being stabbed by a shelter client, a fire broke out, and a shelter client died of an overdose at 55/65 Broadway Ave. Residents say the problems are now spreading in the streets with the crime. , vandalism and break-ins.

“People are attacked. We accost you. All the businesses along Mount Pleasant have been broken into – some of them two or three times, ”said Luci Brown, a nearby resident.

“The situation gradually worsened with the opening of the Roehampton Hotel. “

Toronto Police and Fire Services at the scene outside 55/65 Broadway Avenue on Friday. (Farrah Merali / CBC News)

The city leased all three properties – the Roehampton Hotel and two adjacent buildings on Broadway Ave. – in response to the need to house Toronto’s homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Next month, the two shelter buildings on Broadway Ave. will be released, but the city has signed a two-year lease to keep the Roehampton Hotel – something residents say were never consulted.

‘The shelter cannot stay here’

From graffiti, to public urination and defecation, to theft, many residents say they have noticed that things have changed since the shelters opened. Brown said her daughter went to a day care center next to the Roehampton Hotel, but said she did not feel safe looking for her.

“The daycare had human defecation feces next to the fence where the kids are playing. There were needles around the area, ”Brown said.

“I feel like we are living in a nightmare. ”

“The community has been really terrified, to put it simply, with what has happened here over the past month,” said Nick Avramis, a longtime resident of the area, who said his family’s home was backed by a daycare center that was recently stolen.

Nick Avramis has lived his entire life in the Midtown neighborhood. He said a theft from a daycare near his family’s home struck too close to his home. (Farrah Merali / CBC News)

“The current feeling is as it is now: the refuge cannot stay there. ”

“We understand that there has been a crisis – that we have had to get our vulnerable people off the streets. But a lot of people are wondering how the decision-making process went, ”Avramis said.

In a press release Friday, the city of Toronto acknowledged the security concerns and the process of opening shelters.

“While an advance community engagement process is preferable, the rapid nature of the response and the critical need to protect homeless people – some of our city’s most vulnerable residents – did not allow it. », The press release said.

“Municipal shelters maintain driving expectations for all clients. When clients do not comply with expectations, they face the appropriate consequences, including confiscation of their place in that location, ”he added.

But local businesses say they’ve noticed a change in the neighborhood in recent months as well. Jessica Burns and her family run The Homeway, a breakfast restaurant on Mt. Pleasant route. She says the business was recently broken into and all of their electronics and a significant amount of alcohol were stolen.

Jessica Burns operates the Homeway with her family. The breakfast restaurant was recently broken into. (Farrah Merali / CBC)

“We have been here for 72 years. We never broke in. I have never been concerned about a break-in. And that completely caught us off guard, ”Burns said.

“It also comes at a very bad time for us. Like all businesses that struggle to stay afloat for [COVID-19], this is the last thing we need. ”

The worries of going back to school

A few weeks before the start of the school year, two administrators from the Toronto District School Board also say they are very concerned about the safety of students and staff, given that there are four public schools within a one-kilometer radius of the shelter.

“The location of the Rockhampton shelter is within 20 yards of schools on either side or so,” said Rachel Chernos Lin, administrator of TDSB, Ward 11 Don Valley West.

“We would not be allowed to put a pottery store there. “

Several discarded needles and packaging were recently found in the area by a resident. (Community Safety – Midtown / Facebook)

Shelley Laskin, Warden of Ward 8 Eglinton-Lawrence and Toronto-St. Paul’s, said she had received reports from principals of nearby schools of dozens of needles and inappropriate behavior by people on school grounds.

“Frankly, I would even go so far as to say that I want municipal staff in every school in the morning, during recess, at noon, after school to make sure that it is not our staff who have to approach the children. people.

Although the two administrators say they understand the need to house the vulnerable and welcome the city’s openness to intensify security protocols in the region, they say they do not understand why the school board was not consulted before. that the city signs a two-year lease for the hotel to be a refuge.

Rachel Chernos Lin, TDSB Administrator, Ward 11 Don Valley West (left) and Shelley Laskin, TDSB Administrator, Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence and Toronto St. Paul’s outside Northern High School. (Tina Mackenzie / CBC)

“It is our responsibility as administrators to provide a safe and secure environment. It is therefore important that the city consults with us on issues that will have a profound effect on schools, ”said Chernos Lin.

“A small number of responsible people”

In its press release, the city outlined a series of measures it plans to implement to strengthen security in Roehampton, including recruiting more health workers, housing workers and developing a safety plan with neighboring schools.

The City of Toronto leased the Roehampton Hotel on Mount Pleasant Road for two years, with an option to extend to a third party as a temporary accommodation solution. (CBC)

Regional Councilor Josh Matlow was not available for comment, but in a post in his newsletter he said the community understood the need to provide shelter for vulnerable people. But he said the behavior affecting the neighborhood is “unacceptable”.

“Concerns raised about the recent behavioral impacts on the safety of Midtown residents in the new shelters at Roehampton Hotel and 55-65 Broadway are real and should not simply be dismissed as ‘NIMBY’,” the statement said.

Some residents say they believe a solution lies in making offenders accountable, but also in better dialogue with the rest of the shelter’s clients.

“I still think it’s a small number of people who are responsible for this rise in crime,” said Amber Toutant, a resident who has lived in the area for 14 years.

“I think if we work together as a community, we have the opportunity to make them feel included. ”

The city is hosting an online community town hall on Wednesday August 19 to discuss the Roehampton Hotel.

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