Even with winter coming, homeless people living in park encampments want to stay

Domenico Saxida is one of about two dozen people living in tents in Alexandra Park, near Dundas and Bathurst Sts.

Like many of them, Saxida is steadfast in his refusal to go into the city’s shelter system. “I have the right to choose and I choose to stay,” he said, explaining he feels safer in the park, even with winter coming.

Saxida, who is 50 years old, said his 81-year-old father, Antonio, died earlier this year of COVID-19 after contracting the coronavirus in his nursing home. Saxida said he knows the dangers of congregate settings in the midst of a deadly pandemic and that’s why he prefers his tent. “I don’t want to end up like my Dad.”

Saxida was one of the speakers Sunday at an event hosted by the Encampment Support Network, a group that supports people living in parks across Toronto.

Organizers believe the city is planning to dismantle the encampments “imminently.”

“Alexandra Park and Trinity-Bellwoods are at the top of the list,” said Katelyn Margerm, an outreach worker with the Encampment Support Network.

Volunteers build winterized sleeping pods, that can attach to tents, at the Scadding Court encampment in Toronto on Sunday, Nov. 8.

The city has not announced any plans to clear the parks, but they have said that the encampments are illegal and the only reason they were not clearing them earlier in the pandemic is because they were focusing on “creating safe physical distancing” within the shelter system.

Last week, staff from the city’s Streets-to-Homes teams were in Alexandra Park offering encampment residents temporary housing options, including hotel rooms, which the city has utilized during the pandemic to ensure physical distancing.