Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto could double number of dedicated youth spaces for $3.25 million

Toronto could double number of dedicated youth spaces for $3.25 million

2019-02-28T20:18:40+00:00

Toronto Star

By Jennifer Pagliaro

City Hall Bureau Wed., Feb. 13, 2019

The city could double the number of
dedicated youth spaces across the city by the end of 2020 with $3.25
million, a new staff report says.

Following a specific push from
Councillor Josh Matlow for 20 locations in existing city-run centres and
libraries for youth programming and mentorship, city staff have developed a plan to deliver on the proposal.

Regent Park Community Centre currently has what the city calls a regular youth space. Under a plan drafted by city staff, it would transformed into a dedicated space, with more extensive hours, more staff and programming for young people.
Regent
Park Community Centre currently has what the city calls a regular youth
space. Under a plan drafted by city staff, it would transformed into a
dedicated space, with more extensive hours, more staff and programming
for young people.  (Melissa Renwick / Toronto Star file photo)

If
funded, 10 new spaces could be open this year and another 10 in 2020,
says the staff briefing note tabled for consideration as part of ongoing
budget discussions. The 10 spaces for 2019 include two new library
youth hubs previously planned for 2019 and included in the budget. The
additional eight spaces this year would cost $1.45 million, which is not
currently in the budget.

Council has the final say on what gets funded at a special meeting next month.

“If
we choose to, we can provide safe and supportive spaces for youth
across our city,” Matlow said in an interview Wednesday. “And let
families know that their kids will have a safe and caring place to go
after school. And we can do this by making a relatively small investment
that could result in changing lives.

“Any
member of council who has said that they are committed to combating
poverty, youth violence, making our communities safer and supporting
young people and their families has no excuse not to support moving
forward with this substantive and meaningful initiative.”

Staff
say in their briefing note that Toronto Public Library staff and the
city’s parks, forestry and recreation division provide “excellent” youth
programming. However, the note says, the city’s “overall approach to
the expansion of youth spaces remains largely uncoordinated.”

With
additional funding, staff say the number of new spaces opened in 2019
can be increased to 10, surpassing the two new library youth hubs Mayor
John Tory has vowed to see included in the 2019 budget.

In January, Tory said
he would not support Matlow’s push for 20 new spaces, calling it a
“tough budget year” and saying council’s first responsibility is to
continue existing initiatives. His spokesperson Don Peat reiterated that
Wednesday.

One of the sites staff identified for 2019 is the
Regent Park Community Centre, which currently has what the city calls a
regular youth space, but could be enhanced with the funding to be a
dedicated space, with more extensive hours, more staff and programming.

It’s the same centre that was often visited by Mackai Bishop Jackson,
the 15-year-old gunned down just up the street this past September on a
day when the centre was temporarily closed because it was sheltering
those displaced from the 650 Parliament St. apartment fire. Jackson’s
death has led to local residents and their councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam,
to newly decry the lack of space for youth in their community.

The
city’s 11 existing library hubs and 11 enhanced youth spaces are meant
to provide a safe environment to hang out, do homework, receive tutoring
and other mentoring, and participate in daily programs, such as dance
workshops and science projects. Many of the spaces offer vital access to
technology, like laptops and free Wi-Fi, and most opened so far have
been in or near priority neighbourhoods, which more than other parts of
the city face problems such as poverty, crime and a lack of
opportunities for young people.

York
South—Weston resident and community worker Paula Anneka Lynch told the
budget committee last week the proposal for 20 new spaces “needs to be
in the budget.”

“During my elementary school years I often found
myself in situations where I was in need of guidance and support,” Lynch
told the committee, saying she was often in trouble at school and
misunderstood at home.

“I found solace in community centres within
my neighbourhoods and I was able to connect with youth who had similar
experiences to my own, more importantly, I was able to express my
opinions and my feelings to adult authority figures in a safe space that
allowed for discussion, growth and learning opportunities.”

Lynch
— who recently graduated from university and still benefits from the
support of her youth mentors in her career goals — stressed the need for
safe and welcoming after-school spaces in “keeping youths off of the
streets, out of the cold and removed from unsafe situations.”

Bill
Sinclair, executive director of St. Stephen’s Community House, said he
is “completely” in favour of expanding the number of dedicated youth
spaces, which were modelled on the successful drop-in operated by St.
Stephen’s. He said he hopes local communities mobilize to advocate for
the spaces proposed in their wards.

“I think it’s rare that such a
small investment satisfies both the poverty reduction strategy, youth
equity strategy and the newcomer strategy at the same time,” he said of
why council should adopt the plan as part of this budget.

“This is a versatile tool in their tool box.”

Staff proposed locations for new and enhanced youth spaces in 2019:

Mount Dennis branch (Ward 5)

Driftwood Community Centre (Ward 7)

Chalkfarm Coommunity Centre (Ward 7)

Lawrence Heights Community Centre (Ward 8)

Regent Park Community Centre (Ward 13)

Parliament Street branch (Ward 13)

Thorncliffe branch (Ward 15)

O’Connor Community Centre (Ward 19)

Albert Campbell branch (Ward 20)

McGregor Park branch (Ward 21)

In 2020:

Elmbank Community Centre (Ward 1)

Thistletown Community Centre (Ward 1)

Richview branch (Ward 2)

Jane Dundas branch (Ward 4)

Falstaff Community Centre (Ward 5)

Grandravine Community Centre (Ward 6)

Bloor Gladstone branch (Ward 9)

Scarborough Civic Centre branch (Ward 21)

Agincourt branch (Ward 22)

Scarborough Village Community Centre (Ward 24)

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