t 9 am on Tuesday, July 26, city officials swept through the encampment community located within Allan Gardens in east Toronto.
While the nature of this visit was anticipated by the community—as eviction papers were served last Friday—the implemented strategies were apparent signs of what the City of Toronto's new tactics are when it comes to camp tear-downs.
This new system is a direct response to police tactics that were utilized last summer where police, with city backing, violently marched on Trinity-Bellwoods Park, Alexandra Park, and Lamport Stadium Park.
As a result, city engagement in encampments is now being experienced as a drip feed, with city vehicles and correspondents slowly making their presence known in encampment areas prior to and on eviction days. Witnesses on the scene noted that three city trucks appeared at the encampment space in the early morning, indicating that whatever was about to happen would be led by city officials, not police.
A police presence remained, relatively aloof and at a distance.
“The bike cops are always cycling through anyway, it’s hard to tell when they’re here for us or here for anything else. In addition to the three city vehicles, which appear to just be symbolically parked there, there have also been a number of them that have rolled through and have taken people’s belongings and put them on the flatbeds,” says Morgan Yew, a community supporter who was on the scene as of early this morning.
This smash and grab approach to encampment engagement is becoming common. According to those on the scene, city workers were seen approaching tents that were served eviction notices and offering residents new dwellings in shelter spaces across the city.
While any offer city representatives gave could be refused, it would still result in a return visit, making the process appear coercive to those who were on the receiving end. Resulting in many taking relocation offers that may not be in their best interest.
“We are talking to residents as they leave and as they take these agreements, and some of those agreements feel coerced and some people feel as if they have been potentially lied to. An offer was made for a location that yesterday only had one bed available, and a lot can change in 24 hours. City representatives didn’t actually confirm that that bed was available, they just wanted to move her out of the park,” says Yew.
According to a community member familiar with this situation, the resident Yew spoke about did not immediately have a space made available to them despite a guarantee from the Office of Emergency Management. The resident spent hours working with intake staff and was eventually redirected to the Alexandria Hotel.
According to those on the scene, the locations that are being offered are less than ideal, with the majority of them being hotels and non-permanent transitional spaces, with no guarantee of sustainable, permanent placement.
Yew further expressed his frustrations with this hip-fire approach from the city,
“It’s all under pressure, how do you get something that is going to be closer to what represents their needs? It’s hard to do that at the moment. The whole process should be an ongoing consultation, rather than them showing up, scratching on your tent and telling you it’s time to leave and take the first offer.”
Even with the distanced approach of the police, their presence still served as a bleak reminder of last year.
“It seems like a show of force, having the police present and looking onto the encampment, how many apparent teams of different workers they’re sending to try and pressure these people into taking these spaces,” says Randi Sears, a coordinator with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).
Another amendment made by the city in regards to encampment engagement has been the implementation of private security forces, which are funded by the municipal government in order to function as an extension of monitoring details around encampments. Surprisingly enough, there was no such presence during the eviction event that occurred at Allan Gardens.
As of the time of this report, three tents within the community have been destroyed and their residents placed in several shelter locations, with some of these as far as past highway 400.
Leaving residents displaced from their community and out of reach of essential services.
Brian Cleary, a major support representative across encampment communities across the city was also at Allan Gardens witnessing the day's events. He was able to closely document which shelter locations those who took the city’s offers were placed, citing how the crushing weight these locations have endured over the years has rendered them hardly livable for those who opted to take the offer.
“One couple who took the offer went down to 129 Peter St, which is the central referral for central intake. They have 27 temporary beds there but they are of the worst quality, that place is just trashed and has been for years, with broken shower stalls and broken bathroom stalls. You’re basically getting little cubicles with mattresses and not much else,” says Cleary.
Even with the city’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) taking the helm of these relocations, there is still an endless downpour of shaky guarantees that are being provided to those who have taken the relocation offer. Cleary noted that two hours is all those who have taken the proposal get to make it to their agreed upon shelter before the spot goes back into the central lottery system the city operates on.
“They stick them in cabs to make that two-hour window but I have heard of cases where people go through the whole process, getting there and showing up via a cab and getting told there are no beds available. There is pretty much no recourse at that point if the spot is unavailable,” says Cleary.
Several tents and residents at the Allan Gardens encampment still remain, with many stating that they have no intention to abandon their spaces unless forced. The continued implementation of unreliable promises for relocation appears to be the status quo for those who remain in encampments across the city.
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of one name and to add context about a resident's housing offer].