The situation in Allan Gardens has become untenable.
Warmer weather has arrived and, as anticipated, the encampments in Allan Gardens have increased to the highest number there have ever been, 40 structures - not including the tents supporting the Sacred Fire.
Let me be very clear, this is not at all about the Sacred Fire and the tents associated with it. There are about eight tents associated with the Sacred Fire. I am supportive of and respect Indigenous ceremony and will continue to work with our colleagues in the Indigenous Affairs Office with respect to managing the Sacred Fire program in Allan Gardens.
This public park has become a private party grounds with music blaring, regular campfires, and rampant open drug dealing day and night. The park is unsafe for everyone. There have been sexual assaults, stabbings, and overdoses happening regularly. Residents have reported to me that they have witnessed and experienced racist, sexist, and homophobic verbal attacks, intimidation, as well as aggressive and violent behaviour, including physical assault. I have personally experienced this as well, on my own walks through the park.
Earlier this year, I was hopeful as some progress was made. At one point, the park was down to 16 structures (not including the tents supporting the Sacred Fire) and 11 people; 24/7 corporate security was deployed; and on the west side of the park after Streets to Homes services have been refused new encampments are removed immediately.
I believe I have done everything within my power as a City Councillor to compel City staff to prioritize those living in the encampments in Allan Gardens for shelter and housing. I have walked through the park with city outreach staff to witness the challenges firsthand. I made numerous suggestions including opening up additional spaces at Seaton House as well as in nearby Toronto Community Housing buildings as soon as I took office in November 2022. I have convened regular Allan Gardens Task Force meetings with senior City staff from several departments including the City Manager, Deputy City Manager, Office of Emergency Management, Shelter Support and Housing Administration (SSHA), Indigenous Affairs Office, Parks, Forestry, and Recreation, Toronto Police, and Toronto Fire for the purpose of prioritizing the park and escalating outreach operations so the park may be enjoyed by everyone this summer. Allan Gardens is the largest encampment in the City of Toronto and deserves direct and immediate attention.
We all know that the only solution to address homelessness is through permanent housing and City staff have tried using the Dufferin Grove model, as recommended by the City Ombudsman.
Unfortunately, this model has been taken advantage of by a small group of people who are actively obstructing outreach efforts, evading outreach staff, or outright declining all shelter and housing offers altogether. Our exhaustive efforts now conclude me to believe we are wasting city resources on prolonged and ineffective “engagement”, rather than providing a framework that would ensure the safe transition into stable shelter even in the event of refusal of services.
Without City staff taking concrete and regular enforcement actions, the City is actively sanctioning this park as an encampment site. Everyone in the park has either been engaged by SSHA staff on numerous occasions or has declined offers of housing or shelter. It is time to enforce our bylaws and make it a safe destination once again for local residents, families and anyone who wishes to enjoy all that this destination park in the heart of our downtown has to offer.
I really appreciate the support that has come in from residents regarding my approach and the work my office has done so far. I am committed to continuing my bi-weekly Allan Gardens Task Force meetings to ensure this remains urgent and top of mind for city staff.