LEVY: Is there a standoff between encampment activists and City Hall?

Through snow, rains and high winds, the tents are still occupying major downtown parks — now fortified with  green durofoam pods and in a few cases, tiny wood structures.

Looking rather dismal in the pouring rain Wednesday, they are now hard to miss in Alexandra and Trinity Bellwoods Park with all the leaves off the trees that sheltered them during the summer.

It seems as winter fast approaches, City Hall and the Encampment Support Network (ESN) enablers have reached a standoff.

The ESN has built dozens of winter-proof durofoam pods so that the tent city dwellers can survive in subzero temperatures outdoors.

They openly brag about their efforts on their social media pages, contending that encampments remain the “safest option for people concerned about the (Corona) virus” — safer than the Better Living Centre where the city spent more than $700K to partition clients and keep them safe.

According to the city’s own statistics, there are currently 147 cases of COVID in Toronto seniors homes and five in city shelters, four of them at Seaton House.

The ESN enablers have also made it clear that the city is “inhumane” for trying to stop a Toronto carpenter from building tiny shelters that are also being erected illegally in the city’s parks.

The city’s shelter, housing and parks officials have distributed notices to the tent dwellers with durofoam pods warning them they’re a fire hazard and that they have been installed illegally in city parks.

City spokesperson Lyne Kyle says Toronto Fire Service has advised the pods are made of rigid polystyrene which is a highly flammable material. She said using the pod close to any flame or heat source is “extremely dangerous.”

She said city staff have asked those in pods to remove them.

The ESN enablers are laughing at the city’s milquetoast efforts.

Like the boy who cries wolf,  the city hasn’t and likely won’t act on any of these warnings. Kyle informed me that the city does not “remove” individuals from encampments.

Instead, the Streets to Homes outreach team and other outreach agencies “engage” with the tent dwellers, conducting wellness checks and are “encouraging them” to come inside, she said.

I repeat, they are encouraged not forced into shelter despite the fact the city’s own legal team recently conceded in a submission to Ontario Superior Court — to fight a possible injunction on parks evictions — that there have been “frequent” violent incidents, human trafficking, fires and “unsanitary conditions” in the park encampments.

The dirty needles are everywhere and drug dealing is rampant in the parks, as a city insider recently told me.

Even though the city was given the go-ahead on Oct. 21 to evict tent dwellers from public parks if necessary, Kyle said there are “no current plans to clear encampments.”

She said the city’s focus is to continue to engage and build trust with the tent dwellers with the hope they can get the help they need– meaning both an inside space and other supports.

So far, she said 64 encampment sites have been cleared and between October and this week, 101 people living in encampments in Alexandra Park, Moss Park, Little Norway Park and Trinity Bellwoods Park have been encouraged to move to inside shelter.

That notwithstanding, the tent dwellers who remain — and there are still plenty — are caught in the middle, yet again used as pawns, convinced, I believe, to wait it out until they get housing.

Many campsites even sport signs provided to them by the advocates asking for “Affordable Housing Now.”

And the Better Living Centre, which the city spent $700K-plus on to protect clients from COVID?

Kyle says only  69 of the 100 spots were used on Tuesday night.

But perhaps the tent dwellers are awaiting the extra 240 hotel spaces that the city is in the process of opening, according to Kyle.

She said intake into those locations will take up to three weeks.

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