Eugen Jones (right) and Bud Purves address the media, February 19, 2013.
The Toronto Community Housing Corporation isn't to blame for a recent string of shootings on its properties that have left three teenage boys dead, says agency president Eugene Jones.
Speaking after an emergency closed-door TCH board meeting Tuesday, Jones told reporters that the city-owned social housing agency is already doing everything in its power to keep its 164,000 tenants safe.
"We're doing everything that we can," he said. "I think our strategies now are working."
The agency called the meeting at its Yonge St. headquarters following the murder of 15-year-old Jarvis Montaque, who was gunned down outside his family's Rexdale townhome Sunday night.
His was the third such murder in a month. Only last Monday, another 15-year-old, St. Aubyn Rodney, was shot to death at a TCH low rise near Jane and Finch. On January 18, Tyson Bailey, also 15, was killed in Regent Park.
On Tuesday, Jones, sounding exasperated and at times defensive, said that his organization is "angry that these murders keep happening on our property" but that the TCH shouldn't be singled out for not being able to prevent them.
"All of us [have] got to be in this together. The school board, the churches, and everything. Don't just keep blaming TCHC to fix everything. We're not the fixers."
No major policy changes appear to have come out of Tuesday's meeting. But Jones, who took over the organization in June 2012, stressed that TCH is already working with the police and community groups to enhance security.
Community safety units patrol the housing projects, he said, and staff have organized programs designed to keep young residents out of trouble.
The agency is also working to install security cameras at all 305 of its developments by June of this year (currently there are cameras in 241 TCH communities). But Jones predicted the cameras will be ineffective unless residents are willing to work with police to identify suspects.
Deputy Police Chief Peter Sloly, who gave a presentation at the board meeting about community safety, agreed that it's ultimately up to residents whether or not criminals in their midst are apprehended.
"The most powerful element in here is not the Toronto Housing Commission, it's not the Toronto Police Services," said Sloly. "It's the residents in those communities, and the residents around those communities. They have the information."
Previous investigations into shootings on TCH properties have been hampered by witnesses' reluctance to cooperate with police. Many residents don't trust the force, or fear retaliation from gang members whose comrades they may help round up.
Sloly admitted that while it may be natural for residents to be afraid, it was still in their community's best interest to help the cops.
"Anybody in their right mind would be scared to get involved with a policing issue, with a public safety issue," he said. "But anybody in their right mind would realize that if they don't get involved, that issue is just going to get bigger and worse."
Sloly said that the police are working closely with TCH staff to prevent crime, and that in the wake of the recent shootings the force had resolved "to review what we have in place, and make it better."
At a press conference earlier in the day, officers asked the public for assistance with their investigation into Montaque's murder. They believe he was targeted in Sunday's shooting, although the suspect's motive remains unclear. Montaque was not known to police and had no history of criminal or gang activity.
He was shot once in the chest while with friends outside his apartment, in an area that was darker than usual because an overhead light had burned out. According to a TCH spokesperson, the agency began work to replace the light last week but the job didn't get finished until this week, after Montaque was shot.