Canada

LEVY: No shelter for convenience store owner

Tawhid, the proprietor of this Gateway Newstands convenience store at One The Esplande and claims vagrants have recently been smashing his storefront windows and shoplifting right in front of him, is seen here on Friday, May 14, 2021.

Tawhid has had his hands full since the Novotel shelter opened in February.

The owner of the Esplanade Gateway Convenience store — already suffering from a 70-75% decline in business due to COVID  — says he’s been dealing with what appears to be nearby shelter residents coming in, helping themselves to merchandise and taking off without paying.

He says they take chocolate bars, lighters, phone chargers, packs of cigarettes — about $20-25 at a time but it “adds up” to a few hundred dollars at the end of the month.

It happens almost daily, Tawhid said Friday.

He said because he’s alone, he can’t leave the store when they run off.

Tawhid, the proprietor of this Gateway Newstands convenience store at One The Esplande and claims vagrants have recently been smashing his storefront windows and shoplifting right in front of him, is seen here on Friday, May 14, 2021.
Tawhid, the proprietor of this Gateway Newstands convenience store at One The Esplande and claims vagrants have recently been smashing his storefront windows and shoplifting right in front of him, is seen here on Friday, May 14, 2021. Photo by Jack Boland /Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

In the last three or four months, individuals have tried at least five or six times — almost every week — to break his front window, he adds.

Tawhid said he’s never heard from anyone from the shelter — not the community safety teams that are supposed to protect the neighbourhood, or anyone.

He’s tried calling the police, he says, but for that small amount, he claims “they don’t cooperate that much.”

This, yet again, appears to be the fallout of hotel shelters being plunked in unsuspecting, once quiet neighbourhoods. Like the Roehampton hotel, Liberty Village and the Bond St. hotel before, it is entirely predictable that there should be such fallout from the newest hotel shelter, opened in the Novotel hotel at 45 Esplanade at the end of February.

It now has 195 clients.

While our politicians and bureaucrats appear to turn a blind eye to the fallout, it has become abundantly clear that drug-addicted residents — enabled by lax rules, no curfew and harm reduction activities in these shelters — are not integrating into peaceful communities in a neighbourly fashion as the city’s shelter bureaucrats constantly assure the public.

One resident living in the condo building beside the hotel shelter has taken to diariazing the criminal activities since the Novotel shelter opened and sending her diary, along with pictures, every few weeks to Mayor John Tory.

In an April 13 email, she writes: “This used to be a nice, quiet, peaceful and clean neighbourhood and now we find human excrement, drug paraphernalia, needles, men setting up all their belongings in the front doorway of buildings, smoking crack openly, drug dealers dealing drugs out in the neighbourhood and walking down the street when they are counting their money.”

Speaking on behalf of the mayor, Lawvin Hadisi said that these kind of issues are raised with city staff, who are asked to “respond to the concerns directly.”

“Mayor (John) Tory has worked to make sure these hotels have proper wraparound supports for the residents, that community safety teams are in place and that everyone is addressing community concerns,” she said, noting shelter staff have been “saving lives” throughout the pandemic.

Patricia Mueller, executive director of Homes First, which runs the shelter, seemed not to know of any problems with Tawhid, or anyone else.

“We’re more than happy to deal with it if they have videos,” she said.

Mueller insisted a community service team is patrolling the neighbourhood, but she didn’t know of their exact patrol routes because it is a security company employed by the city.

Asked why the clients are roaming the neighbourhood so much, she said they’ve been “normalized” to being outside — that’s their “default position.”

  1. The Novatel Toronto Centre, on The Esplanade, is the latest hotel to be leased by the City of Toronto to house homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    LEVY: Angry Esplanade area residents get few answers about new COVID hotel shelter

  2. The Roehampton Hotel, which is being used as a homeless shelter, near Mt. Pleasant Rd. and Eglinton Ave. E. in Toronto, Ont. on Thursday, April 1, 2021.

    LEVY: Toronto Police stats show crime surged after Roehampton shelter opened

  3. The Roehampton Hotel, which is being used as a homeless shelter, near Mt. Pleasant Rd. and Eglinton Ave. E. in Toronto, Ont. on Thursday, April 1, 2021.

    LEVY: Condo values drop as crime stats rise near Roehampton shelter

But at least the mayor’s office responded, as did Mueller.

I can’t say the same for Councillor Shelley Carroll, whose ward hosts the Edward Village hotel on Yorkland Blvd., where an Urgent Public Health Needs Site (supervised drug consumption service) was quietly added in March with what residents claim was minimal consultation.

Suzanne Gardner, who lives five minutes from the hotel, said the neighbourhood has seen a “drastic increase” in car break-ins, robberies, store theft — in her view, a “direct result” of drug addicts needing money to support their habit.

She said the up to 300 residents housed at the shelter go out into the community to “make money” for the drugs and they’ve broken into her condo building and smashed windows in cars to take “anything that is saleable” for their drugs.

Gardner contends that Carroll snuck in the proposed drug consumption site very “quietly” and most people don’t know about it.

She’s worried the drug addicts will hang out on their condo properties and neighbouring parks all summer.

Gardner said the police and Carroll have tried to tell residents the crime rate has gone down as of late.

Carroll did not respond to five emails and phone calls for comment but did have time to tweet about running after an ice cream truck as I was trying to reach her Friday evening:

You’re killing me. Which one? Did you go to #SilverStarBoulevard without me!?!” she tweeted shortly before 7 p.m.

Sylvia Braithwaite, director of shelters for Fred Victor, which runs the Edward Village shelter, said in a lengthy response that shelter is staffed 24/7 and “provides wraparound support” for shelter residents.

This includes, she notes, primary health care and referrals, harm reduction intervention and “intensive” mental health and addictions services.

She said the overdose prevention site allows shelter residents to “consume drugs under trained supervision to reduce the risk of overdose.”

She insisted community and client safety is a “priority” for the city’s shelter administration and for Fred Victor.

“The city is working hard to ensure the residents of the temporary shelter program are good neighbours,” she said. “It is important to remember that people using shelter services are equal citizens of the city.”

Braithwaite added that Toronto Police 33 Division says there is “nothing” to indicate there are any crime issues “directly related” to the shelter and that all crime indicators are down.

Speaking on behalf of the city’s shelter division, Kris Scheuer said the Edward Village hotel program has four security guards providing 24/7 security, who do safety walks every 30 minutes.

At the Novotel, she said, there are two community safety teams patrolling the area from Yonge to Parliament Sts. and from Lake Shore Blvd. E. to Richmond St.

Scheuer repeated the narrative one hears repeatedly when the public dares contend crime has escalated in the neigbourhoods surrounding hotel shelters — namely that these residents are “equal citizens of the city” with the same rights and responsibilities of other citizens.

That is becoming tired, shopworn nonsense.

If I were to enter Tawhid’s store and help myself to $25 worth of drinks, chocolate bars and other snacks without paying, I’d be considered a thief.

Why do we excuse bad behaviour by drug-addicted homeless clients?

SLevy@postmedia.com

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