Loading articles...

Man's death at encampment fire in downtown Toronto park sees renewed calls in how City treats homeless people

Last Updated Feb 17, 2021 at 7:55 pm EST

Officials investigate a fatal fire at an encampment at Orphan's Park on Feb. 17, 2021. CITYNEWS/Bert Dandy

A man is dead following an encampment fire in a downtown park.

The fire broke out just before 6:15 a.m. Wednesday morning at a park near Adelaide and Parliament Street.

Officials say a makeshift wooden shelter in the homeless encampment caught fire.

Once it was extinguished, fire crews discovered a man dead inside.

Toronto’s acting fire chief Jim Jessop says the City’s message is clear – this type of living arrangement outside is simply not safe.

“We saw a 250 percent increase in fires between 2019 and 2020,” said Jessop on Wednesday.

“This is our 27th fire at an encampment in 2021 and unfortunately, we’re at the scene of another fatal fire.”

Jessop says public education staff from the fire department have visited this encampment before, located at Orphan’s Green Park, three separate times to provide fire safety and life education advice about the dangers of living outside.

He says because of the propane and compressed gas cylinders being used, the situation is also dangerous for responding firefighters.

Toronto Fire chief Matthew Pegg tweeted out his condolences to the family, friends, and all of those impacted by the fire.

Pegg says an investigation is underway and Toronto police are working to identify the male victim.

RELATED: Novotel on The Esplanade to become an emergency homeless shelter for 2021

There are now renewed calls for change to the way the City treats homeless residents.

Lorraine Lam, an outreach worker with Sanctuary Ministries Toronto, said many people living outside have nowhere to go.

“This is a huge failure by the city,” Lam said.

“These encampments are last resorts, no one is celebrating living outside and this points to the deeper issue of the housing inaffordability crisis.”

Encampments have popped up throughout the city since the pandemic hit last year. Hundreds left the shelters for fear of catching COVID-19 and many do not want to return.

Last year, the city said it helped move 1,300 people in from the streets and more than 3,200 people have been permanently housed from the shelter system.

Advocates say there are about 1,000 people living outdoors, while the city said it recently counted about 300 tents or structures.

What we really need is more housing,” Lam said.

Mayor John Tory said hundreds of supportive housing units, where people can access mental health and addiction services, will be available later this year with funding from the federal government.

“We (also) have thousands of affordable units in the pipeline, some under construction, some almost ready for occupancy, that we didn’t have two years ago,” Tory said.

“We have this as the top issue after the pandemic, I would say, in the entire city.”

Lam said the recent cold snap has left those living outside with few options to warm up.

On Tuesday night, the temperature hit a low of -16C at 3 a.m., according to Environment Canada.

While the city has four warming centres, Lam said they don’t usually open until 7 p.m., which discourages many from going.

She said some of the homeless in encampments had been warming up at Union Station downtown, but were recently told by security to leave.

Benches and chairs have also been removed from the transit hub, which Lam said was a move to discourage the homeless from gathering there.

City spokesman Brad Ross said seating has been removed at Union Station to ensure physical distancing is maintained.

“Everyone is welcome at Union Station, but like any public space, the city has an obligation to ensure those spaces are safe for all,” Ross said.

Mary-Anne Bedard, the city’s general manager of shelter, support and housing administration, said municipal workers visited Orphan’s Park around 2 a.m. last night to see if anyone wanted to leave the encampment and go somewhere warm, but they did not get a response.

It is important to note our Streets to Homes teams were out all night long,” she said.

“They had 73 interactions with people who were staying outside, and 10 of those people accepted assistance.”

There are seven shelters in with COVID-19 outbreaks with 115 people testing positive for the virus. A COVID-19 variant has recently made its way inside a shelter, the city said.

Latest Traffic & Weather
680 NEWS TRAFFIC @680NEWStraffic 680 News Traffic Twitter verified icon
Updated Today at 12:51 AM
Clear! Ramp reopened.
Latest Traffic
680 NEWS WEATHER @680NEWSweather 
Updated Yesterday at 03:49 PM
~3a-4a Saturday, wet snow will enter the GTA (trace-2 cm north, rain south) Risk of freezing rain over higher eleva…
Latest Weather