Where are we safe?

Entrance to 110 Empringham Drive

A student from the area walks by the entrance to 110 Empringham Drive.
Photo credit: Kwok Wong

A beer bottle lies pitched in the snow beside a bright yellow kids bike.

On a recent Saturday morning, there is stillness in the air. Both roads and sidewalks are empty. It’s daylight; the Christmas lights decorating one house are dark.

It looks like a typical neighbourhood in suburban Toronto, if not for its history of bloodshed and violence.

Empringham is something different for everyone. To Toronto Community Housing, it is “CHU23 – Scarborough North” or “Empringham Mews.”

For others, it’s simply “Empz.”

Named after a blacksmith who lived in this same area in the early 1900s, the Empringham district in Malvern today is a latticework of public housing. Private roads branch off from Empringham Drive, where in 1982 the old Metro Toronto Housing Authority packed in dozens of townhouses for families with low incomes.

As one of over 350 public housing developments, this one boasts close access to a recreational centre, and a basketball court blanketed by a layer of snow.

For a man shoveling that snow off his driveway on a Saturday morning, Empringham is the reason he will move away with his two children the instant he gets a chance.

Jamil, who did not want his full name published, does not feel safe in the area anymore. He is “shaking” after the most recent incidence of violence that left Keyon Campbell dead.

The safety of the neighbourhood seemed to get better three years ago when there was a surge in police patrols. Residents at the time co-operated with each other and the authorities, he says, but now that has all changed.

There is a tension in the air, says another man who is struggling to mount a steel bedframe onto the roof of a van just down the street. He is helping his mother move out of her house, for “other reasons.”

But this community is as safe as any other, says Anthony Hutchinson, who runs a support program for youth in the area.

“A shooting can happen anywhere. And most of the shootings this past year have happened in the Jane and Finch area,” said Hutchinson, who added the population density of neighbourhoods factor into their crime rates.

Jane and Finch, home to 31 Division, is leading 42 Division, home of Malvern, by three murders so far this year.

“I feel safe [here] because of the church,” says Sue Nirmal, who runs Malvern Montessori School for children aged two to six, located inside one of three churches at Neilson and Sewells roads.

None of the parents of the 10 children she cares for has mentioned the violence in the area nor the shooting that took the life of a 16-year-old just a few steps away at 110 Empringham Drive.

There is one incontrovertible fact: Almost two weeks ago a boy was shot to death as he walked out of his house to warm up the car for his mother.

In front of the snow-covered basketball court and the sparkling Christmas lights from a neighbouring house.