Facing homelessness in Berczy Park

4 Nov

A16943A5-0E84-4415-81F7-AEDF5323350DNote: See “So what can you do?”below for actions you can take and contact info.

In recent months, park users have noticed an increase in homelessness in Berczy Park, particularly individuals sleeping on benches. The possible reasons are many, including escalating opioid addiction, the rising mental health issue in society, shortage of shelter space and low-income housing, and even the recent closure of St James Park for renovations, a favorite spot for many homeless.

Smoking homeless man sitting on bench in park.Community reaction to this reality is diverse. Some overlook the issue while others offer spare change to homeless persons or donate to organized shelters. Others simply say they want the homeless removed from the park, citing the eyesore or risk to health and safety created by these individuals, who they may blame for the increased litter or hazardous materials in the park.

Everyone has a right to their own views on this issue. However, Friends of Berczy Park offers these points to consider, if you wonder how to address this issue:

  • images-22Friends of Berczy Park has observed many types of homeless persons in the park:
    • passive, harmless daytime visitors killing time;
    • aggressive panhandlers;
    • ‘overnight’ squatters who sometimes leave behind waste, needles and vomit;
    • well-intentioned homeless persons who have spent hours cleaning the park and self-policing the area to create order in their temporary ‘home’.

Clearly, we cannot label or paint all homeless persons with the same brush.

  • Friends of Berczy Park’s philosophy is that Berczy Park is a public space and everyone is welcome, as long as they respect other park users and cause no harm to the park or others. Homeless persons should be as welcome in Berczy Park as any other member of society who respects others and does no harm.
  • The Berczy Park designer chose not to include anti-homeless park features in the PB1076-001-Gpark design, such as restrictive armrests on park benches to prevent sleeping. Some social justice advocates feel such physical barriers create an exclusionary ‘You are not welcome in this space’ message. The park was designed with features to discourage illegal activities, such as extensive lighting and open lines of sight from the streets and paths.
  • Friends of Berczy Park works with the City and Parks Dept to find solutions to issues that arise, such as lighting or maintenance to discourage illegal or unsafe activities. The City has implemented daily/seasonal park clean-up crews to ensure Berczy and other parks are in good condition.
  • Friends of Berczy Park encourages you to call 3-11 or the Toronto Police non-emergency line if you see disruptive behavior in the park by any park user. You should call 9-11 if you see actual criminal activity or life-threatening events occurring
  • beltline24Friends of Berczy Park does call upon – and encourages others to contact the Toronto Parks Dept’s Park Ambassador Service – to make on-site, outreach visits to homeless persons who appear to be in distress or are behaving in a harmful way.
  • Friends of Berczy Park maintains equipment (gloves and disposal bottles) in our park volunteer supplies bin to remove hypodermic needles or other hazards. We have safely removed such items to the designated bio-hazards disposal bin in St James Park and to local pharmacy counters, who are obliged under license to accept such hazardous waste items.
  • Friends of Berczy Park holds the belief that simply ‘shooing’ homeless persons out of a public space is not a solution to the problem. This is only shifting this societal issue out of sight where it may create worse impacts.

So what can you do?

  • Decide for yourself if you wish to donate to or support homeless persons directly. You may also inform yourself about non-profit agencies or shelters to support or make referrals to homeless persons in need.
  • Report crimes, dangerous or at-risk behaviour to the authorities, so they can take immediate action AND compile important data on the issue, for future allocation of government resources to the issue.
    • Call Toronto Police 51 Division, in these cases:
      • Non-emergency: If you require Police assistance, but are not in an emergency situation (e.g. Reporting thefts, vandalism, fraud) or for other situations where no person or property is in immediate danger, please call our non-emergency telephone number 416-808-2222.
      • Emergencies or Crimes in progress: 9-11, If you require emergency assistance, or want to report a crime in progress, please call 9-1-1. An emergency is any situation where people or property are at risk. (including but not limited to fires, crimes in progress or medical emergencies.)
    • Call 3-11 (or tweet @311toronto) to report unsanitary or generally disturbing conditions in Berczy Park such as damage to facilities. This information will be directed to the City Ward 13 Park Supervisor for action or the appropriate City department.
    • To seek homeless outreach with homeless persons who you believe require ‘attention’ (ie. they are not committing a crime and are not in a risk-to-life situation but may require help or intervention by professionals), you may call 3-11 and ask that your request by sent to the Parks Dept. Parks Ambassador 3-11 can contact the Parks Ambassador team on your behalf to respond.
  • To help keep Berczy Park safe, right now:
    • Help us keep the park clean, by picking up at least one piece of litter you see. Waste like chicken bones, broken glass or suspicious items pose an immediate risk to others, so be a good neighbour and dispose of these items if you see them, before someone else is harmed.
    • You can post a message or image on our Friends of Berczy Park Facebook page to alert our group and other community members to the issue quickly.
    • If you see very unclean or unsafe conditions in the Park, call 3-11 or tweet @311toronto) to report the problem.
    • You can also e-mail Friends of Berczy Park (berczypark@gmail.com) so we can report or track the issue, or we may be able to dispatch a local volunteer (ie needle disposal or discarded waste that poses a threat to pets or park visitors.)
  • To work for longer-term solutions, call or write your City Councillor (Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam in Ward 13, Toronto Centre (includng Berczy Park) or Councillor Joe Cressy (adjacent Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York) to share your views on the homeless situation. Your input will help them advocate for additional or appropriate City services to address urban issues including homelessness.

One Response to “Facing homelessness in Berczy Park”

  1. jim stewart at 1:59 pm #

    This is a great article. Thank you for publishing it!

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