As the cold weather settles in, those experiencing homelessness in Toronto are combatting the chill with fire, prompting safety concerns from the public.
This comes as the number of fires at homeless encampments has increased since the temperatures dipped, including an incident at an encampment near Fort York National Historic site Tuesday evening.
Toronto Fire said flames spread to surrounding trees, and one person suffered minor injuries, as a result of the fire.
On Saturday, an encampment at Bellevue Square Park in Kensington Market went up in flames. Toronto fire said there were no reported injuries.
The incident at Bellevue Square Park is close to a nearby encampment located outside of a church in Kensington Market that was shut down by the city late last week, forcing those who lived there to relocate to shelters.
The encampment, which housed approximately eight people, was deemed a “significant fire risk” by the City of Toronto, which placed the blame on a buildup of combustible materials that posed a risk to those in the encampment and in the surrounding area.
The city said in a statement there’s already been three fires at this encampment alone in the past 10 months.
Jim Jessop, Deputy Fire Chief of Toronto Fire Services, told Global News firefighters will often find Coleman camping stoves in tents. “You’ll have all of the small, compressed gas cylinders. We’ve had barbecues… we’ve had propane tanks.”
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Community worker Diana Chan McNally says many see the encampments as their only option right now, especially as city shelters continue to be overwhelmed.
“We need to stop evicting people from encampments. This city is going to see people living outdoors for some time to come,” says Chan McNally.
“We all know that the answer is housing, but it’s going to take years for that housing to actually appear.”
On Wednesday morning, Mayor Olivia Chow, speaking at the Toronto Shelter Network Conference, told attendees that 27, 000 people are currently waiting for supportive housing, yet, “there are no funds for it.”
“We can do so much better,” said Chow.
— With files from Shallima Maharaj