Danforth’s decline: Drugs, prostitutes now in the open
November 14, 2009
A trip to the Danforth for many means niche boutique shopping in Greektown, a wine list at lunch and a Starbucks for the ride home. Three subway stops east, at Coxwell, the streetscape has changed.
Trendy eateries are replaced with fast-food restaurants. Parking lots and sterile storefronts hopscotch one another down the Danforth drag. And the further you go, the more it slides.
The kitsch of Greektown dries up at Jones Ave. Pass Donlands. An auto shop. A fried chicken joint. A funeral parlour. Coxwell is the dividing line.
By Main Street, bars on shop windows, payday loan stores and dingy pubs are the norm. Drifters who have been turned away from the local shelter sleep in long alleyways. Dealers work out of side-street crack houses. Prostitutes walk the Victoria Park strip.
It’s only getting worse. In the last three years, the drugs and street workers moved into the open. Deals that used to go down in the back of grimy Internet cafes now happen in broad daylight. Prostitutes moved out of rub-and-tugs and onto street corners.
Now, the crime has seeped west.
Last week, a known gang member was fatally shot in the face on a residential street just west of Pape, in the heart of gentrified Greektown. Police are still trying to determine what 27-year-old Theo Tiku was doing in the quiet family neighbourhood. It may have been a blip, but it was enough to send shock waves through the community.
Residents and police are pushing back.
“There has been a general decline in the (east end of Danforth),” said Det. Christopher Higgins of 54 division’s major crime unit. “So we’re being very proactive with our enforcement.”
In the last year, Higgins and his team have been going after drug fronts, johns and rub-and-tug parlours. In October, police rounded up 70 johns. In March they netted 57. Last fall, 21.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more, just that we’re getting better at catching them,” said Higgins.
Police have partnered with Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to ensure local bars – predominantly those that hawk $2.50 pints – are following the rules.
Faced with a graffiti explosion, the Danforth Business Improvement Area hired Scarborough-based Goodbye Graffiti to remove sprayings as they happen.
“We call it the cockroach effect. Graffiti attracts more graffiti,” said John Kalimeris, the company’s managing director. “If you’re victimized and you clean it up, it may come back. But if you don’t, your neighbour gets it and it will just continue to spread.
“There’s an implied threat, when people see graffiti, that there are undesirables in the neighbourhood. People will shop at the big box stores instead. People think: `If you aren’t cleaning your walls, are you cleaning your store. Are you cleaning the kitchen?'”
Abubakar Siddique runs a struggling, 10-year-old clothing shop near Victoria Park. He pines for quieter days.
“Customers don’t come into the store because the homeless people are standing out front. I don’t blame them. It’s not their fault. But they walk around swearing or whatnot and people don’t come in.”
Two weeks ago, a woman scooped up a bunch of clothes, headed to the dressing room, then came out naked, suggesting a trade. There are break-ins in the area – mainly junkies trying to support a habit.
Siddique isn’t the only one hoping to resurrect the Danforth of the past. Three years ago, a group of families and professionals formed the Danforth East Community Association. They’ve been knocking on storefronts in need of TLC. Eight have been revamped so far.
Concerned about drug dealers in East Lynn Park, the group campaigned to get families out and about. They held movie nights and square dances. Two years ago, Alison McMurray spearheaded what has become a popular farmer’s market in the reclaimed space.
“Even a little thing like revitalizing the park, when you’ve got so many mommies and daddies with strollers everywhere, that isn’t really a comfortable place to do your drug deals. I’m not saying we’ve got ridden of it, but we’ve pushed it out of the area,” said McMurray.
In the 1950s, before the arrival of the subway, the wide sidewalks of the east end created a walking neighbourhood. Once people went underground, foot traffic dried up and shops closed. With rents declining, landlords were less picky with retailers. The clientele went next. And the cycle continued.
McMurray has hope. “I think there is slowly becoming a return to that age. Where you come to the Danforth to walk and shop and eat and spend time with friends. That’s what our group is trying to do.”