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.
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)
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)