Signs erected to deter park encampments make it harder to help homeless people, advocates warn

New signs in Toronto’s parks and green spaces prohibiting people from setting up camps overnight will make it harder for the city to help homeless people, advocates warn.

The signs reflect current regulations, the city says. They say the park’s hours are between 5:30 a.m. and midnight and “visitors may not erect a tent or structure” or “camp in the park.”

“It’s just over the top,” said Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, a Toronto civil servant and community activist.

“You shouldn’t put that kind of blanket restriction on the three million people who live in the city.”

Ramkhalawansingh posted a photo of a sign she found along the University Avenue median. People posted on social media various new signs they found in College Park, Dufferin Grove Park and others.

It comes just a week after CBC News announced the city’s plan to hire private security guards to patrol select parks 24/7 to avoid a repeat of last summer. when 26 people were arrested as police and city workers evicted an encampment from Lamport Stadium Park. There were also violent clashes when homeless people were evicted from Trinity Bellwoods and Alexandra Park.

The city maintains that the camps are unsafe, unsanitary and illegal.

But Diana Chan McNally, a homeless advocate and community worker at the Toronto Drop-In Network, doesn’t think the signs are a solution.

“The signs could suggest that more broadly, any member of the public could in fact be banned or ticketed, or even arrested, if found in these spaces after hours,” she said.

Homeless people will go “further underground”

Although the combination of signs and security may prevent encampments in particular parks under surveillance, McNally says this will only push homeless people further from the city center towards North York or Scarborough, making it more difficult for them to research.

“People are going deeper underground, they are going deeper into ravines, they are going into more hidden spaces,” she said.

“We lose people, they disappear, we can’t communicate with them,” McNally added.

Diana Chan McNally, community worker at the Toronto Drop-In Network, says safety signs and patrols in parks will only drive homeless people away from downtown, making it harder for them to access services Support. (Radio Canada)

“If they’re away from services, they can overdose, hurt themselves, disappear. So there’s actually literal harm that can come from this strategy.”

The city says the signs comply with its Parks Bylaw, which “prohibits encroaching on or taking possession of a park by erecting a structure on park land, occupying a park for non-recreational purposes and while camping, tenting or otherwise living in parks,” city spokesman Anthony Toderian said in a statement.

Toderian said the city began posting signs this year at park entrances and exits where campsites were found in 2020 and 2021.

“The reference to ‘Park Hours 5:30 am – Midnight’ is a reminder that sleeping at night in parks is prohibited,” Toderian said.

The city has ordered 380 signs and has posted 104 to date. Each sign costs $22 to $28, and the city spent a total of $11,850 on the signs and their installation.

The city says by-law officers or contract security officers will contact staff if they see people erecting a tent or other structure in a park, so the city’s Streets to Homes outreach workers can engage with them. occupants and provide services and safe indoor accommodation.

Toderian says this reflects the city’s commitment to a “housing first” approach.

While there’s still no word on the cost of 24/7 park security, McNally thinks the city could invest more money in providing direct support services to homeless people.

“They don’t add any direct value to social services,” she said, pointing out that driving the homeless out of the city center will make it harder to find and house them.

“In fact, you have outreach workers like Streets to Homes, whose job is literally to find out where people are and, on top of that, to provide those services.”

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