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Toronto to deter encampments by contracting private security guards to patrol some parks 24/7

Outreach worker calls move an intrusive ‘band-aid' solution to housing problem
May 12, 2022
Nicol Brockbank

The City of Toronto will have private security guards patrol a handful of parks 24/7 this summer to deter people from setting up encampments and to notify city staff whenever new tents go up.

CBC News confirmed the plan with a spokesperson after discovering a city tender soliciting a private security firm to provide guards in various Toronto parks for a year.

"The static security allows us to keep a close eye on those parks that we know where encampments grew last year so that we don't see a repeat of last summer," said Brad Ross, the city's chief communications officer.

"We want to make sure that those individuals know that they have access to services before they set up an encampment."

The city maintains encampments are unsafe, unhealthy and illegal.

Parks with a constant security guard presence will include several of those where large encampments were controversially cleared by city staff and police last summer like Trinity Bellwoods, Alexander and Lamport Stadium parks.

Dufferin Grove Park will also have 24/7 security, and there will be a mobile team of security guards that split time between Moss Park and Barbara Hall Park, according to Ross. The contracted guards will also work in concert with the city's corporate security, which will be monitoring other parks as well.

Number of guards, cost still unclear
How many private security guards will patrol each park hasn't been nailed down yet.

"It's not going to be a platoon or anything like that," said Ross. "I think it's safe to say it would be one or two at least."

It's also still unclear what the 24/7 surveillance will cost. Ross says the request for proposal submissions it receives will give the city an idea of the price tag for this type of a security presence. The tender opened for submissions last week and will close on May 30.

Last summer the city spent nearly $2 million on enforcing evictions and cleaning up encampments at Trinity Bellwoods, Alexandra and Lamport Stadium parks -- money that many advocates have said should have gone towards housing solutions.

Not a sustainable solution: advocate
Lorraine Lam, an outreach worker at Sanctuary Toronto, thinks the city's decision to contract private security guards is more of the same.

"It's not a reasonable or sustainable solution," she told CBC News.

"If anything they're trying to put a band aid on something that requires more ... all of that money could be better spent on actual housing and long-term solutions."

On top of the cost, Lam says constant surveillance just further criminalizes vulnerable people.

"It's really intrusive and an invasion of privacy," she said. "Encampments are a symptom of the fact there is no housing for people."

Ross says the city is investing hundreds of millions in housing, and in the shelter program.

Nearly $2 million spent on clearing encampments should have gone to housing, advocates say
"At the same time, we also have to balance the need of all residents to have access to their park," he said.

"The investment in the prevention piece will save the city money because we won't see encampments established like we did last year."

Contracted security guards are expected to act as the city's eyes and ears in the six parks they patrol and will not be involved in enforcement.