Wellesley St. safety audit shows TCHC security shortcomings

Dennis Hanagan —

Tenants at 200 Wellesley St. E. are hoping something will be done soon to stop the drug dealing and violence in their building.

A big part of the problem is some tenants sell or buy drugs and let in customers and dealers through six doors that are meant strictly for exiting only.

“They take over the elevators. They have e-bikes and bicycles and they take up the whole elevator going to where they’re going. They will get physical with residents … They’re very agitated because they need their drug,” says tenant representative Clifford Martin.

Some assaults have been serious and reported to police. But it can be difficult finding the transient culprits.

“They (police) don’t know the person (suspect) that they’re dealing with so when they go to arrest these people, well, they don’t live here. They’re just here to buy or sell,” says Martin.

On a misty December evening Martin walked around the outside of 200 Wellesley St. E. with two 51 Division police officers, two Toronto Community Housing representatives and about 15 residents to do a safety audit. In a lower level stairwell the group found personal belongings in bags indicating a few people sleeping there.

“We saw syringes as well,” says Martin.

In a community room prior to the walk a woman tenant complained that a man had gone door-to-door on her floor banging on apartment doors asking for someone by name, a possible sign of a buyer looking for a dealer or vice versa.

The 29-storey building with 711 units—the largest social housing building in the world, says Martin—does not have surveillance cameras on the very lower floors. But it does have security guards from a contract company on duty except for the late morning hours when drug activity withers away.

Martin would like to see TCH’s own guards on duty because they’re more professional and better trained. He concedes, however, they’re unionized and would be much more expensive.

About 90 of them are “special constables” who patrol in cars. The hope is to get some of them back, on foot, in some TCH buildings, says Martin. 200 Wellesley was the last TCH building to have a full time TCH special constable on site.

Martin says cameras on every floor would be expensive, but more on the lower floors would be helpful so that guards could monitor the exterior doors and the hallway lobbies. All six elevators have cameras.

The best solution, says Martin, is for the building to have only one operative door, that being the one at the main entrance. The six exit-only doors should be for fire emergencies only and otherwise locked.

“If we just went with the one door with contract security guards we would be okay. I don’t think we’d have as much of a problem. People (visitors) could sign in,” says Martin.

Police and special constables have indicated to him that arrangement is the one they favour, too.

Martin would like 200 Wellesley tenants to form a residents association with committees to deal with specific issues such as maintenance and beautification.

“It’s really badly needed in the building. The residents have a role to play here.”