The city of Toronto is considering restricting traffic on Homewood Ave to mitigate the number of johns cruising for sex workers along the stroll through the night.
The city is proposing a turn restriction, either westbound or eastbound from Wellesley St E onto Homewood Ave, between 11pm and 6am. The hope is that the move will discourage johns from driving into the neighbourhood and circling the area looking for sex workers.
The proposal will now go to community council for January.
About 30 residents attended the public meeting on Oct 12 at the Wellesley Community Centre hosted by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. “We want to hear your opinions and comments in how this will impact you and your neighbourhood.”
“From what I heard tonight, it’s fairly evenly divided, for and against,” she says.
Residents living near Homewood Ave and Maitland St say the issue is an ongoing problem that has been escalating over the years.
Homewood resident Brian Sambourne says he’s exasperated and doesn’t know what the right answer is. He describes waking up in the morning to find crack pipes, used condoms, feces and cigarette butts on his property.
“It’s the continual invasion of my property with the debris left behind,” he says. “I realize sex trade workers have to make money. All I am asking for is a little respect for property. I love the idea of a red-light district, but the political will isn’t there.”
Roy Suthons has lived on Maitland Place for 18 years and doesn’t support the change. “I don’t think it will fix any problems. The biggest inconvenience for me if traffic is restricted is the extra driving time.”
It’s not just sex workers and johns. Drug dealers cruising the area are also a problem, Wong-Tam says. “There is a fairly active hard-drug trade here.”
Wong-Tam says she sent out 1,800 ballots to residents asking if they are in favour of the change or not. The ballots are due back by the end of the month, at which time, she says, she will release the results.
The results of the ballot and notes from the meeting will be added to a report that will be presented to community council.
“We want people to know this is a change coming down from city hall, and I don’t want people to be shocked or have anyone say to me that they were not informed,” she says. “I will make a final decision based on community feedback and based on the ballots.”
Mark Pugash, spokesperson for Toronto police, could not comment until he’s seen the report.
Wong-Tam says she has been busy all summer getting the pulse of the community on the issue, including working with representatives from Maggie’s, Toronto’s Sex Worker Action Project. “We asked Maggie’s if they could ask their members to be mindful to not scream and holler through the streets and try to be more respectful of private property.
“The response from Maggie’s is that they cannot control all their members. They can’t guarantee everyone will honour the requests from the community to respect private property.”
Maggie’s is agreeable, Wong-Tam says. Advocates don’t feel the change will solve the problem for property owners, but it will mitigate the problem.
“We should never shy away from having an open and honest discussion. If we are going to legitimize and validate sex work, then we need to have a respectful discussion that involves the workers themselves.”
In 2008, the Homewood Maitland Safety Association (HMSA), made up of residents in the area, launched a campaign of late-night demonstrations in an effort to drive sex workers away from the area. The demonstrations included picketing, photographing and videotaping johns and their licence plates and shining flashlights at sex workers.
Some sex workers claim they were threatened with baseball bats and had eggs thrown at them.
HMSA members said they were reacting to a series of disturbances in the area, including drug trafficking, noise and late-night fights and drug sales.
For more information, contact Wong-Tam’s office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 416-392-7903.