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A group of students walk in front of yellow police tape after their school was reopened following a shooting at the corner of Birchmount Rd., and Bay Mills Blvd. (Fernando Morales for The Globe and Mail/Fernando Morales for The Globe and Mail)
A group of students walk in front of yellow police tape after their school was reopened following a shooting at the corner of Birchmount Rd., and Bay Mills Blvd. (Fernando Morales for The Globe and Mail/Fernando Morales for The Globe and Mail)


Residents of Toronto public housing four times more likely to be murder victims Add to ...

But also widely acknowledged is that many problems on TCHC property originate from people who come and go from the often decrepit buildings but don't live there.

A TCHC spokesperson rejected a suggestion that security is lax, maintaining the corporation routinely evicts "people who are engaging in illegal activity or endangering tenants." Beyond law enforcement, TCHC lists crime-prevention measures it takes, such as repairs and improved lighting.

But Mitchell Kosny, interim director of Ryerson's school of urban and regional planning and a former TCHC chair, says it has long been clear that TCHC communities such as Regent Park provide a haven to non-resident criminals.

"The local reconnaissance would say a hell of a lot of the drug and violent crimes that were committed there were really generated from outside the community," Mr. Kosny said. "Ninety-nine per cent of the tenants are like 99 per cent of the population. They're regular, good people."

Part of the problem, he added, is that when communities such as Regent Park were built, they were physically isolated from the rest of the city. "No one in their right mind would build another Regent Park or St. James Town or Jane-Finch because they're islands," he said.

Inaccessible to cars, Regent Park's original, rabbit-warren design not only thwarted swift police response, but also forestalled less intrusive forms of crime prevention - grocery stores, coffee shops, banks.

Ross McLeod, the president of Intelligarde, a security provider, cites amusement parks as an example of crime prevention through design, with heavy foot traffic and few places for troublemakers to hide.

"You don't feel like you're part of an authoritarian, micromanaged police state, but the opportunities for crime are so minimal and the detections are maximal," he said. Stairwells are a particular magnet for miscreants, especially drug dealers.

"You can't confront them, because you don't know how they're going to react," TCHC tenant rep Charmaine Roye says of the strangers who use and sell drugs in her building's stairwell. Nor does she see community patrol officers doing nightly patrols in her building any more.

Revitalization, improved patrols

Today, Regent Park is improving, manifest in the Royal Bank that opened last winter [February 2010]/note> at the base of a new condominium building. But there have been setbacks, too, reminders of the neighbourhood's violent history. Surveillance cameras were not working when two teens were shot dead in Regent Park in October.

TCHC is undertaking other revitalization efforts, including one at Alexandra Park, a maze-like tangle of buildings adjoining downtown Kensington Market, and another in Lawrence Heights. And not a day too soon, said a security guard familiar with Alexandra Park.

"There are places where, if you called 911 for backup, it would be impossible to find you," he said, and he is not alone in his criticism.

Morris Beckford, executive director of Doorsteps Neighbourhood Services in the northwestern corner of the city is part of a loose coalition encompassing community workers, police, and public and private security guards in the Jane and Wilson neighbourhood. The group meets every few weeks to discuss community development and security in the area.

"Anybody knows there's only so much you can do in a high-rise built with limited space," Mr. Beckford said.

"It's more a fault of the city planners who allowed these buildings to be built with limited green space and limited space where more than 10 community members can come together."

Mr. Beckford nonetheless sees some flickers of hope. He's appreciative that police now patrol the neighbourhood in pairs, rather than large groups. Mr. Beckford, who does community work in TCHC buildings, also praises TCHC's community patrol officers, noting "a shift in the way they do business," through more direct engagement with tenants.

That's a change, he says, "very unusual for TCHC."

With files from Celia Donnelly and Rick Cash

Editor's note: Due to an editing error a previous version of this article stated that members of the TCHC had expensed items such as spas and dinners. It should have stated that staff expensed those items.

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