A Feb 13 community safety audit of the Church-Wellesley Village turned up a need for more lighting fixtures and trash cans, graffiti cleanup, disposal facilities for drug paraphernalia and increased police involvement with the community, says Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who led the audit with staff from the 519 Church Street Community Centre, four police officers and staff from Sanctuary, an area homeless shelter.
The audit team toured the Church-Wellesley Village, including parks and back alleys where community members have complained about drug use, harassment and prostitution.
Wong-Tam says the audit fulfills a campaign promise and has been in the planning stages since she took office in December. She says it was not a response to the much-publicized “teens of terror” incidents involving homophobic slushie and ice attacks by students at Jarvis Collegiate.
In fact, Wong-Tam says that all the statistics and anecdotal evidence she’s collected from police, Crime Stoppers, the BIA, neighbourhood associations and The 519’s anti-bashing hotline indicate that incidents of violent and hate-motivated crime have dropped over the past year. However, petty thefts and break-and-enters have increased, and community members have complained about sex workers strolling in front of their properties.
“I heard very little perception of safety issues during the election, and that was about whether streetwalkers should stand in front of [residents’] properties,” Wong-Tam says.
The audit proposed ways to make the community less appealing to outside elements, such as drug dealers, that make residents feel unsafe.
“We realized there was a lot of outstanding maintenance issues, lots of issues with respect to alleyways in the neighbourhood,” Wong-Tam says. “They’re often used as places for hard-drug use and drug transactions, perhaps prostitution, according to the residents. The police were unaware of these alleyways.”
The team that is drafting recommendations will be asking the city to improve lighting in public laneways and encouraging private laneway owners to improve lighting on their own.
“At the back of Church St there’s a number of properties where there’s second-storey step-ups with no lighting,” Wong-Tam says. “That’s where illegal dumping takes place and residents mention finding drug paraphernalia.
“[Owners] need to take stewardship over the backs of the buildings. Walk the entrances their tenants use. Would they want their children using these entrances without lighting and handrails?”
Because so many residents complain about finding needles and drug paraphernalia in parks and alleys, Wong-Tam says she’s open to the idea of more needle deposit boxes.
“They’re going to do it. We can’t stop it,” she says. “You’ve got needles and drug paraphernalia left behind in parks, right beside children’s playgrounds.”
Although Wong-Tam stresses she doesn’t want to criminalize the homeless, she is recommending removing a bench from beside the path through George Hislop Park to reduce aggressive panhandling.
“People will be forced off the pathway, which is dangerous, especially in the winter because the pathway is the only part that’s cleared,” she says. “Seniors using walkers, parents with small children are concerned.”
Other recommendations will include closer inspection and faster removal of graffiti tags, more trash bins and community policing.
“The best way to keep the community safe is by animating community spaces, ensuring that parks are clean so families and children will be able to use the facilities,” Wong-Tam says.