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Parks for who?

Who gets to use our parks and who gets targeted by police and the city? For many people, including survivors, the answer to that question is based on income and respectability. All of the public does not “deserve” a park when they set up a tent, drink an alcoholic beverage or act “dangerous”. An obvious example is Trinity Bellwoods Park where hipsters and middle class people drink craft beers in the open without police intervention. But a person perceived as homeless will be targeted by police for appearing to be drunk. Do you think the city needs more park outreach or to leave the Tents the F#ck alone?

Don River Valley Park. “A park for artists,” reads one. “A park for the Indigenous,” reads another. “A park for the homeless.” The installation is titled A Park For All by artist Will Kwan, and it asks, simply: Who are parks like this one for?

… Outreach workers and homeless advocates haven’t always been happy with the results—seeing the ambassadors less as providers of social support than security guards, making parks welcome for everyone but the poor. “What that program does is exclude poorer folks from accessing public space,” said Jen Ko, a registered nurse who helps run the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site (OPS), which has drawn the ire of some nearby residents. “Superficial beautifying and gentrifying is sort of the main goal, and investing in resources for people is not,” Ko later said.

… At many such committee meetings, residents of Cabbagetown and Moss Park tell city councillors about the syringes, garbage, and human excrement they find in their parks, and the violence and crime they say has spilled into the streets nearby. The word “balance” comes up often, usually in reference to the disproportionate number of shelters and support services that residents say have changed the character of the Downtown East and should be spread throughout the city instead. Resident Sylvie Greeniaus told councillors during a committee meeting last summer that police and parks ambassadors stopped entering Moss Park after the OPS arrived. “The park is now being owned by the faction that surround the trailer,” she said at the time, advocating for its removal. “We’re not allowed in the park anymore.”

…But Cook, the Sanctuary outreach worker, doesn’t believe everyone’s intentions are pure. “I would argue a lot of the complaints that middle or upper-middle class people make are they just don’t want poor people in their parks,” says Cook. “There’s nothing illegal about hanging out in a park.”

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