Scores of police and city workers descended upon a downtown Toronto park Tuesday morning to clear a sprawling homeless encampment.
They were met at Trinity Bellwoods Park by a large group protesting the action, with many surrounding the makeshift dwellings of those who didn’t want to leave.
The city issued trespass notices to about 25 people living in two main encampment sites at the park on June 12, warning they could be evicted and face a $10,000 fine.
On Tuesday morning, the city put up fences around the two sites that hold approximately 65 structures.
Susan Gibson said she has lived in the park for the past 10 months. She said she did not want to take the city’s offer of a spot in a shelter or a hotel because she feels much safer from violence and the spread of COVID-19 when living outdoors.
“This is a waste of taxpayer money and it’s divisive when we should be helping people,” she said.
Gibson said she doesn’t know where she’ll go if she is forced out of the park.
“It’s sad,” she said. “I’d like to get into affordable housing, but it’s very difficult.”
Jimmy Pudjunas spent the morning trying to pack up his belongings from his sprawling tent and wooden structure shelter. He, too, said he doesn’t want to live at a shelter due to the threat of violence.
“I’m trying to be compliant,” he said. “I’m leaving but I don’t know where I’m going.”
Pudjunas has lived in the park since last September.
“They say you can’t live here, not that you can’t live, so I’m gonna go find a spot under the bridge.”
Hundreds fled Toronto’s homeless shelters for fear of contracting COVID-19 when the pandemic hit and dozens of encampments popped up throughout the city.
Recent data obtained by The Canadian Press also shows a significant rise in violent incidents in Toronto’s shelter system over the last five years.
The city maintains the shelter system is safe and has said it will eventually clear the homeless encampments, which it says are unsafe. City council also recently passed a motion to end encampments.
In addition to the action at Trinity Bellwoods, the city has also issued trespass notices to residents at three other encampments.
Last month, the city and police halted an encampment clearing at Lamport Stadium after a standoff with homeless residents and their supporters.
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