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Toronto protesters face off over city’s strategy on homelessness

Click to play video: 'Protesters face off over city’s strategy on homelessness' Protesters face off over city’s strategy on homelessness
Demonstrators clashed in midtown Toronto on Saturday, divided over issues surrounding homelessness, after temporary housing opened in the area. – Aug 15, 2020

A pair of temporary housing facilities in midtown Toronto helped fuel duelling demonstrations on how to address homelessness amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with each side calling for change but with differing views on how it can be achieved.

“I’m here today because I care about safety in the neighbourhood and I care about the shelter residents,” said Jason Appleby, a father of two.

He and others on one side of the demonstration called for more focus on community safety after complaints of increases in crime and drug use.

“I want my boys to be able to run around in the parks, I want them to be able to play,” he said.

“Now I have to worry about needles or pieces of needles that weren’t caught by the people picking them up.”

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The demonstration follows the opening of a city-run temporary housing program at the Roehampton Hotel on Mount Pleasant Road and Eglinton Avenue, as well as a temporary housing site nearby on Broadway Avenue that is set to close at the end of the month.

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Lawrence Allen White, who recently moved into the hotel with his nephew, Justin Alexander Krane, said the new accommodations have vastly improved their quality of life after an extended period moving from shelter to shelter.

“What it’s meant for me is at least I’m not living in fear, I’m not starving to death,” he said.

“The Roehampton is a godsend,” his nephew said in agreement. “I’m absolutely grateful.”

Read more: ‘Basically warehouses:’ shelters in midtown Toronto unsupported, advocates say

On the other side of the protest, organized under the banner “Toronto for All,” demonstrators held signs and chanted slogans calling for issues around homelessness to be brought to the forefront.

Sean MacNutt, who said he was once homeless himself, said temporary shelters are an essential part of helping marginalized people and, ultimately, the entire community.

“I mean, if someone has come out of prison having served their time, should they be able to live somewhere or should they be homeless?” he asked. “Should they have no money at all and then resort to activities that they may very well want to change in their life?”

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Brad Ross, the chief communications officer for the City of Toronto, said the city is aware of the community’s concern. He said it has taken steps such as more security cameras, security guards and medical and mental health supports in response.

“We have a good neighbour policy and we’re continually working with our clients who are staying at the Roehampton, for example, to remind them of that,” he said.

Read more: City of Toronto staff member stabbed while on shift at interim housing apartment site

Mayor John Tory told Global News in an emailed statement he visited the area this week to meet with local residents and business owners, as well as residents of the shelter and the professionals on staff to help them.

“I continue to raise residents’ concerns with staff to make sure that the City is doing everything it can to respond and deliver results,” he said over email. “I want people to know that the message has been received and that I am doing everything possible to address safety concerns in particular.”

Public engagement on the shelters was initially delayed because of the urgent need of housing due to the pandemic, Ross said.

A virtual public engagement session is planned for Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m.

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