Burlington GO users report more open drug use and harassment on platform


Published December 8, 2023 at 2:49 pm

homeless people burlington go station halton region

When a GO Transit commuter arrives at the Burlington GO on Fairvew Street early in the morning, they say they are too often greeted by open drug use, nudity and verbal confrontations between people on the platform.

“I’m sitting here in the western concourse at Burlington GO, 5:45 a.m., for my daily commute into the city, and there are three people sitting across from me, smoking from a crack pipe,” a user wrote on the Burlington subreddit earlier this week. 

“Burlington GO is a total, sketchy mess before 6 a.m. and they need to do better.”

The user, who briefly spoke with inhalton.com over Reddit but was unavailable for a longer interview, is not alone in feeling unsafe on public transit. 

The Reddit thread, which has over 170 comments as of Dec. 8, offers a glimpse into an ongoing crisis impacting not just Burlington, but towns and cities across Canada. At a time when the country is grappling with an increase in homelessness, addiction (particularly opioid misuse) and untreated mental illness, many vulnerable people have taken to sleeping and resting on public transit.

While many commuters in the thread say they try to be understanding, they also say they sometimes feel unsafe and need security to do more. 

“I appreciate there is a housing crisis and many people are especially vulnerable right now. But there also comes a point where staff need to keep their passengers safe, and this simply isn’t happening,” the original poster said. 

In the post, the user said they often see benches pulled into corners so people can use them as “makeshift shelters.” They also said that they’ve seen “garbage, unknown liquids and cigarettes” littering the benches, leaving commuters with no place to sit. 

“Every time I walk in here, the place stinks of smoke and urine, and half the time there is someone sprawled out in the middle of the floor with their pants and underwear around their knees,” they said, also alleging they witnessed an older passenger being threatened for ‘filming’ someone on the platform when no filming was taking place. 

In the post, the user says they’ve witnessed security asking people to leave but failing to follow up. 

“If you want your stations to double as homeless shelters, maybe at least give people some basic supplies rather than allow them to sleep half-naked at the feet of elderly passengers. Or have the city invest in support for these people.”

Metrolinx, which operates GO Transit, told inhalton.com that it’s aware of the situation and has seen an increase in people using its infrastructure as shelter. 

“We believe we all have a role to play in keeping our communities safe, and we take the health and safety of every single person using our trains, buses and stations very seriously,” a Metrolinx representative said in an email to inhalton.com. 

“As with many transit service providers, we do see an increase in individuals seeking shelter in our stations during the cold winter months.” 

In the email, Metrolinx said its station services and customer protection services teams work with municipalities to connect vulnerable people to social services while also increasing patrols at stations. 

The representative said people who encounter someone in crisis at a station can text ‘HELP’ to 77777, adding that the service is available in over 100 languages. Those who witness a serious or life-threatening emergency are urged to call 911. 

In a statement sent to a commuter who asked Metrolinx what it’s doing to address safety concerns at the Burlington GO station, the transit agency said it’s not ignoring the uptick in vulnerable people sheltering temporarily at the station. 

“The issue of the vulnerable population occupying Burlington GO Station is known to us, and I want to reassure you that it is not being ignored,” the statement–confirmed to be from Metrolinx–reads.

“The challenge of homelessness is decades old, and there has been an unfortunate increase recently. The colder weather adds to those challenges, as intake/bed occupancy within shelters reaches capacity quickly.”

In the statement, Metrolinx’s customer care team says people causing a disturbance by consuming illegal substances, drinking excessively, damaging property or engaging in threatening or violent behaviour are removed from the facilities. 

“We work closely with local police services to address any person, whether vulnerable or otherwise, whose behaviour has been identified as problematic be removed,” the statement said. 

As for whether police have been called to investigate disturbances at the GO station, Halton police told inhalton.com that they could not provide any immediate specifics. 

Metrolinx told the commuter that it has partnered with local outreach programs and has worked with social workers to find alternative shelter for people in need. The company also said it has increased patrols, CCTV monitoring and emergency buttons. 

The increase in homelessness in the region has been stark. 

Isabel Contin, a communications specialist with the Halton Region, told inhalton.com that as of Dec. 8, Halton’s two primary emergency shelters–the Salvation Army Lighthouse in Oakville and the Wesley Emergency facility in Burlington–are at full capacity.

Contin says that when the region’s shelters are full, it works to find other safe housing for people in need, while also linking them with the appropriate supports–including help finding permanent housing. 

According to a recent Halton Region report, 172 people were receiving emergency shelter support from the region as of Oct. 21, while 270 additional people were living in temporary transitional housing awaiting an offer of permanent housing.                          

The report says that somewhere between 10 and 25 individuals sleep outside in Halton on a given night. 

“Most of these individuals are actively working with the Street Outreach Team to secure permanent housing,” the report says. 

The report also acknowledges the rise in encampments in the region, which Contin said are “not a suitable housing option.” 

“We continue to offer safer, healthier and more accessible options through our emergency shelter programs,” she said. 

The report said it’s working to keep people out of encampments by increasing shelter capacity, providing temporary boarding for pets, funding transportation needs, increasing Halton Housing Help Street Outreach capacity and teaching staff how best to support people with mental health and addiction challenges. 

As for what’s driving the crisis, the report says the rise in homelessness is multi-factorial, as more people are struggling to cope with the rising cost of housing, wages not keeping pace with living costs, opioid misuse, and lack of housing options for those with “complex mental health and/or addictions challenges.” 

The report says that between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 101 Halton residents presented to hospitals for confirmed opioid overdoses. Paramedics responded to 131 overdose-related calls during the same period. 

Six people died of overdoses between January and March 2023. 

“Homeless individuals tend to be overrepresented in opioid misuse as compared with the general population,” the report reads. 

In the Reddit thread, some people called for better support for homeless populations. 

“Perhaps Burlington needs more men’s shelters or support services…it’s bad everywhere and only getting worse. You should have some empathy for your fellow man trying to find somewhere to sleep,” one poster wrote. 

“Burlington doesn’t even have a men’s shelter. Shame on the city of Burlington. If anyone would like to suggest a solution to this problem besides arresting/removing homeless people from a warm space, I’m all ears. I don’t know where you expect police to move these people.”

Others say there’s a problem when public transit becomes a de facto shelter.

“It’s ridiculous that people are completely okay with this. And they have framed it as rude to be worried for your safety when you’re an honest hard working taxpayer,” one poster said.

“This drastically needs to change.” 

The region says people who see someone in need of shelter can help by emailing [email protected] or calling 1-866-442-5866. 

Women, couples and families in need of shelter can call 311 or 365-292-3554 and men in need of shelter can call 311 or 905-339-2918. 

Anyone who sees someone suffering from a mental health crisis can contact the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) at 877-825-9011. 

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