Encampment fire raises community safety concerns in Liberty Village
Another fire at Lamport Stadium sets a homeless encampment ablaze early Sunday morning.
Sounds of “screaming and explosions” were heard as three tents and one wooden shelter caught fire at the King Street West homeless encampment — where about 15 people were staying — near Lamport Stadium, according to a statement released by the city.
The fire occurs just days after a standoff between protesters and police, resulting several arrests and one man being charged with assaulting a police officer.
Mayor John Tory warned of the risk of fires in illegal encampments, in a press conference after last weeks’ protest.
“I will say that the encampments are unsafe, they are unhealthy, and they’re illegal,” Tory said. “This very encampment where there were some activity taking place today.
“It was an encampment where we had a fire recently and only because outreach workers happened to be there in the night, was a man rescued from a tent that moments later exploded,” he said
Street outreach workers have made 107 visits to the encampment in five months, Tory said, offering residents of illegal encampments a place in temporary shelters.
This weekend’s fire at Lamport Stadium is one of many that have occurred across the city since the beginning of the pandemic. The city said there was a 250 per cent increase in encampment fires since January 2020, and seven deaths since 2010.
The last fire at Lamport Stadium occurred in December of 2020, roughly about three metres from Sundays’ blaze.
No injuries were reported this time.
Toronto Police and Toronto Fire continue to investigate the early-morning inferno, according to the city.
Concern for public safety initially spiked for residents in Liberty Village when the city built a temporary respite site in the parking lot of Lamport Stadium in the winter of 2018.
Joell Ikonomou, owner of Liberty Village Rotisserie, said he experienced frequent minor thefts, trespassing, and break-in attempts since the encampments arrived just steps from his restaurant.
“Since [the respite site] has gone up, I’d say all of these things have significantly increased. Before that, I didn’t have any issues,” Ikonomou said.
His business was victim to a break-in before the pandemic that left him with nearly $1,000 in damages to his front door, and stolen iPads and cash. The perpetrator has not yet been found.
“For the most part, most people were pretty disturbed by the fact that [the encampment] was there,” Ikonomou said. “In all honesty, I wasn’t necessarily disturbed by the sight of it.
“But I will admit that if I had the option of it not being in front of my restaurant, obviously, I would take that option,” he said.
“However, at the same time, I have no idea what it’s like to be homeless. I’m not gonna sit here judge these people. For the most part, they left me alone,” Ikonomou said.
The city continues to make visits to the encampment, encouraging those living in tents in city property to move to shelters provided by the city, Tory said.
“We will go back at the efforts we’re making to make sure that the hotel and other shelter accommodations we provide for those experiencing homelessness are as safe as they can possibly be,” Tory said.
Toronto Fire didn’t have any further information regarding the cause of the encampment fire at this time.