Officials say an investigation is underway after a fire at a homeless encampment in Toronto early Sunday.
City officials said in a news release that firefighters were called to an encampment at Lamport Stadium, in the area of Dufferin and King streets, at 5 a.m. after receiving reports of “screaming, explosions and a fire involving three tents and one wooden structure.”
No injuries were reported. Toronto police and Toronto Fire Services are now investigating the blaze.
“The City of Toronto’s Street-to-Homes staff are on site offering safe, indoor space to anyone displaced as a result of the fire,” the news release said.
On Wednesday, city officials, flanked by dozens of police officers, moved in to clear the encampment at Lamport Stadium, causing tension with the community.
Protests led to officials temporarily stopping their removal efforts, leaving some structures in place.
“They’re criminalizing everyone living here, this is scary and traumatizing and just absolutely unnecessary,” Brian Cleary, who lived at the encampment last year, said at the time.
Some people have been living in tents and home-built shelters outside Lamport Stadium since the pandemic began in March 2020. The site is one of dozens that popped up throughout the city after many homeless individuals left shelters for fear of catching COVID-19.
City officials said Sunday that encampments “pose a significant risk of fire and other hazards to those living in them” as well as to the wider community.
Officials said there has been a 250 per cent increase in encampment fires since January 2020.
“Since the start of the pandemic, the City has referred more than 1,500 people experiencing homelessness into safe, indoor space, with supports including meals, laundry, harm reduction and access to a housing worker,” the news release said.
During Wednesday’s efforts to clear out the encampment where 15 people were staying, at least three people were referred to indoor spaces while others either considered going inside or declined to go inside entirely, officials said.
Those who moved to a hotel were only allowed to bring two bags of belongings with them and there are also rules they need to follow at the hotels, which are a deal-breaker for some.
The city has leased or bought dozens of hotels, motels and other buildings in an effort to reduce the number of people in shelters, most of which are congregate living spaces and vulnerable to large COVID-19 outbreaks.
— With files from The Canadian Press