Toronto police admit muggings are up at Church and Wellesley, but say other crimes are down. Business owners at the intersection feel differently.
Brian Black, who’s been the manager at the Church-Wellesley coffee bar Lettieri for 10 months, says he’s had to take additional security measures this summer to keep his store safe for customers and staff.
“We’ve put locks on the bathrooms and put up signs warning people not to loiter in the store,” he says. “I’ve told my workers not to hesitate to call the police if they see anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.”
Next door at the Wine Rack, manager Leanne McVean has had numerous problems of her own over the last few weeks, including a smashed window.
She declined to speak directly about the incidents, citing corporate policy, but says she felt it was “very important” for someone to write about incidents of crime on the corner.
But police at 51 Division say that for all the concerns, the Village has gotten off pretty easy this summer, with rates of minor crime holding steady or even decreasing compared to last year.
“[Crime] hasn’t increased in the area in the past several months. If anything, it’s in a holding pattern or has decreased slightly,” says Staff Sgt Bruce Kennedy of 51 Division’s Community Response Unit.
Kennedy wouldn’t comment specifically on the rates of crime. Specific crime statistics in the area, requested by Xtra from the police Freedom of Information Unit, were not provided in time for publication.
However Kennedy says the weekly crime stats for “petty crimes and disorder” show a slight decline from the previous year.
But business owners say the cops may not be hearing about all the incidents.
Karen Halliday, the owner of Slack’s bar, says reporting even minor crimes is important.
“If no one calls the police, then the police are going to think there aren’t any crimes being committed,” she says.
Police admit there has been a slight increase in robberies of individuals in certain parts of the village, notably at Church and Wellesley. The police held a public meeting on Aug 11 to discuss the issue.
“We noticed there was just a little bit of a spike in the robberies that are occurring around Church St,” Supt Kimberley Greenwood of 51 Division told the meeting.
But while drugs, aggressive panhandling and muggings have tended to be problematic at certain “hot spots” in the neighbourhood, Kennedy points out it could have been worse considering the “sheer numbers” of people that turn out for events such as Pride, the Fetish Fair and Writing Outside the Margins.
“The summertime is always much busier for crowds… so while there might have been an increase in disorder activities that annoyed people by keeping them awake, there wasn’t necessarily an increase in crime,” he says.
Kennedy says the neighbourhood forms part of the police’s Church-Yonge patrol corridor. He says community officers — 12 on foot patrol and seven or eight on bicycle — have been working to improve communication with neighbourhood groups and business improvement associations to identify concerns about non-emergency crimes like loitering or vandalism.
The city also hopes to alleviate some of the problems by expanding the Streets to Homes program this fall.
Adopted as a pilot program in February 2005, Streets to Homes works under a “housing first” policy that aims to get people living on the street into secure, long-term accommodations, explains program manager Iain De Jong.
“If [social workers] find a street person who has issues with homelessness, they’ll be offered a place to stay,” De Jong explains. “If the person is a panhandler who does have a place to stay, the workers will try to figure out what underlying issues are causing them to panhandle and try to help the person solve those issues.”
Under the program, social workers assist clients to access income supports and find appropriate housing. Support staffers then perform follow-up appointments for up to a year to help new residents adjust to the housing transition.
In May council approved a $2.6-million expansion of Streets to Homes to hire and train additional personnel for the downtown core.
De Jong says the next wave will begin working this month, with three social workers assigned to cover the Church-Yonge corridor on a regular basis.