Toronto councillors push for last minute budget changes to help youth
Some Toronto councillors are trying to engineer last-minute changes to the city’s budget that could make a difference to thousands of children and youth. Council members may try, during the speci
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Some Toronto councillors are trying to engineer last-minute changes to the city’s budget that could make a difference to thousands of children and youth. Council members may try, during the special meeting on the budget which starts Tuesday, Jan. 15, to increase 2013 spending. Among the programs they might target with motions are those providing nutritious meals or snacks for students, subsidized recreational activities for low-income youth and city-run after-school programs. The advocacy group Community Recreation for All is asking for “10 new city-run youth spaces in 2013” and says community groups such as St. Stephen’s Community House and West Scarborough Neighbourhood Community Centre support its request. The groups say some city community centres ask youth to leave if they aren’t there for registered activity, but there is enough space in library basements, churches or school board properties to add the 10 drop-in centres. Just $1.9 million a year would fund the staff and open the spaces in late afternoons and evenings, said Amy Katz of CRA. Funding for youth programs run by non-profit groups is often temporary, added Mackenzie Kinmond, a youth worker formerly with Prevention and Intervention Toronto in Rexdale. The three-year program for gang-involved youth has shut down, as have recently the Touchstone Youth Centre in East York and a youth space at the Dufferin Mall, among others, she said. “I’ve seen youth I’ve worked with who no longer have a youth worker to connect with or a place to chill out,” said Kinmond. “When these things close, it’s total betrayal for youth.” On Friday, St. Paul’s Councillor Joe Mihevc said he is one of several councillors willing to make a motion to add the 10 drop-ins, “if I find there are the votes there.” If not, he added, “I’m going to try to keep the issue alive” and see whether money can be found half-way through the year when program spending is reported on. Mihevc said the city is doing its best to increase the number of after-school programs for youth, knowing involvement at that time of day lessens the chances they will get involved with gangs, but community centre drop-ins are full to capacity. “We don’t need to own them all. We just need to make sure it is happening.” Mihevc said he’s also trying to boost city spending on student nutrition programs in schools from $300,000 which barely covers the cost of food inflation by adding $1.1 million more. The province and area households pay part of their costs, but Mihevc said many nutrition programs are run on a shoestring and either start late and end early in the school year or provide food less than five days a week. An increased contribution can also expand the program to 19 more schools, most of them in Scarborough, he said. “Frankly, this is one I’m going to go to the wall on.” Scarborough Centre Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker has praised changes to the city’s Welcome Policy which subsidizes recreation for low-income residents including thousands of youths each year. The subsidized programs are at 22 recreation centres the city calls “priority centres” but only one of these, Oakridge, is in Scarborough. A planned reorganization by 2014 would increase the number of priority centres to 39, including 10 in Scarborough and serving more of Toronto’s low-income census neighbourhoods. De Baeremaeker disagrees with staff that the city must wait until 2014 and has said he may try to pass a motion speeding up the process.;
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