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Fire breaks out at homeless encampment in downtown Toronto

Click to play video 'Fire at downtown Toronto homeless encampment' Fire at downtown Toronto homeless encampment
WATCH ABOVE: A fire over the weekend beside her condo complex has prompted a Toronto woman to speak out in the name of safety. Shallima Maharaj reports.

Residents who live near a downtown Toronto park were jarred awake early Sunday morning by loud blasts.

A tent was on fire in the homeless encampment at Alexandra Park near Bathurst Street and Dundas Street West. Bright flames could be seen beside the gate that separates the park from a townhouse complex.

“It just was all confusion, especially because there was a massive crowd of people out watching and smoke was obscuring everything,” said Clarice Dale.

She, along with her neighbours, witnessed the blaze. There were no reports of injuries.

Global News has since learned the fire was caused by a cardboard box being placed over a running generator.

READ MORE: Toronto considering ambitious plan to combat homelessness amid COVID-19 pandemic

“Homelessness is a pressing issue in our city. However, enabling the encampments to grow and proliferate in the residential areas while endangering the lives of community members is not a modern solution to a modern problem,” read a portion of a statement from Dale’s condominium board.

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According to numbers obtained from Toronto Fire Services, there have been 136 probable encampment fires in 2020 and one death on May 1. There were other fires over the weekend at encampments, including one in the northwest corner of Trinity Bellwoods.

“We’re getting into fall. Winter is just around the corner,” said Dale.

“People are living in the park and they’re going to need a way to heat their homes.”

She said she hopes the incident over the weekend will be a catalyst for conversation between multiple levels of government.

“The only solution to homelessness is for all levels of government to invest adequately in social services and affordable housing,” a statement from Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York Coun. Joe Cressy read in part.

“I believe we have a responsibility as a society to make these investments and will continue to advocate to this end.”

According to the City of Toronto, nearly 850 people have been relocated from encampments to indoor spaces like shelters, respites, hotels and interim housing as of Monday. It was estimated there are around 350 to 400 tents or other types of shelter on city property.

READ MORE: Federal government commits $1B for cities to buy motels, hotels for rapid-housing program

When it comes to viable housing solutions, Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre executive director Angela Robertson, believes there needs to be a range of options.

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“From affordable housing to supportive housing, to congregate settings, to rooming house plans,” she told Global News.

“Housing is one pillar. The other piece is support.”

For instance, mental health and substance abuse issues are a couple of areas Robertson said she would like to see addressed as supports embedded in housing options.