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9 people from Toronto encampment relocated to shelter space as clearing begins

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Nine people living in an encampment in downtown Toronto have agreed to be relocated to a shelter space and one person continues to remain on site as the city begins clearing the makeshift camp.

City staff had been on the ground at the encampment outside the St. Stephen-In-The-Fields Church on Bellevue Avenue throughout Friday to take it down. The city said eight individuals were on-site in the morning and several others arrived to ask for help finding space.

“By 5 p.m., nine people had accepted offers of shelter space with wraparound supports, and one person remains on the right-of-way,” city spokesperson Russell Baker said in a statement.

"To lessen the immediate risk, removal of some of the debris and combustible materials will begin tonight."

Baker added that outreach workers will continue to talk with the one remaining occupant over the coming days to encourage them to move to an indoor space.

The city has said the encampment is being cleared due to “continuing and immediate public safety risk.”

“While this is a tool of last resort, we must address the accumulation of combustible and hoarded materials on site, posing substantial risk to both those encamped there and those in the surrounding area, including the church located at this address,” the city said in a statement to CP24 on Thursday.

Mayor Olivia Chow said encampment residents were offered hotel shelter space with supports that they need.

“I do not want to see any violence occurring because, at the end of the day, the city is there to make sure people have a roof over their heads, be out in the cold and get the support they need,” Chow said, referring to previous violent park encampment clearings done by the city.

Rev. Dr. Alison Falby, one of the advocates who was at the encampment Friday morning to try to prevent the eviction of residents, called the city’s actions a “disgrace.”

“We all know that people are more secure in a community, and this is a community that supports them. And you know what else this church is for if not a refuge and a sanctuary,” she said.

Speaking to CP24 on Thursday, Rev. Canon Maggie Helwig of St. Stephen-In-The-Fields Anglican Church said she’s “heartbroken” and “extremely anxious” for those staying at the encampment.

“Some of the people who are here have been here for nearly two years now. This is their home. It is the closest thing to a home some of them have had for a very long time,” Helwig said, adding that the residents depend on the support they receive from the church and nearby agencies.

“We are seeing people stabilizing and becoming healthier because they have a single place to be rather than being chased from park to park and from doorway to doorway. All of that is being put at risk now,” she said.

With files from Joanna Lavoie

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