Toronto youth initiatives: Ground-level view of the stratosphere

After the “summer of the gun” in 2005, various funders and levels of government focused on the issues of youth and youth violence. The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence was produced. Funding appeared in the Priority Neighbourhood Areas through the Youth Challenge Fund (YCF). Laidlaw Foundation made youth a central focus of its work. United Way Toronto developed a “policy outcomes framework,” calling for coordinated action from the provincial government. Each summer since, through Focus on Youth, a provincially-funded program, the two largest public school boards have run programs providing youth employment and space for non-profits in Toronto schools.

So now, more

than five years later, some of that work is well established, and some of it, such as YCF, is near the end of its mandate. From the 30,000 foot level, things look good.

The provincial government’s youth policy framework is being developed, guided by “big brain science,” as one watcher called it. Literature reviews are done and developmental milestones are being firmed up. United Way Toronto has been hosting a multi-stakeholder Community of Practice for Youth and has developed evaluation frameworks with youth-serving agencies to develop a youth strategy. Consultations are underway for United Way’s development of a strategy. A city-wide Dialogue on youth violence working group is rolling along. A frontline youth workers crisis response guide has been developed. Laidlaw Foundation’s and United Way’s multiple reports and initiatives are well underway (see More below).

If youth of this city need strategies, guides, conferences and policy, the non-profit and government sectors are working it. But a recent conversation with a group of youth service-providers providers a more sobering reality check. While “capacity-building” and “skills-building” is being funded, program operating costs are scarce.

The south entrance of Dufferin Mall in Toronto...

Image via Wikipedia

One set of neighbourhood agencies have spent a year exploring after-school programming for local youth, but have stalled because they haven’t found a funder that focuses on this need. The Youth Challenge Fund, which focused on Priority Neighbourhood Areas, is in its last year. The City’s Welcome Policy is frozen – and this may be a seasonal occurrence. Youth settlement funding for newcomers is drying up. One youth worker explained he has no more funding to take youth to museums or other downtown excursions. His program cannot cover the tokens, never mind the admission costs of these attractions. Another worker lamented a summer of trips to the local park instead of places further afield, such as the Toronto Islands. The kids in these programs sometimes have never seen Lake Ontario. To raise funds for TTC costs, they are making arts & crafts to sell locally.

And community space for youth is still a crunch.

  • While LOFT has been able to open a youth social enterprise space, the Dufferin Mall space has closed.
  • Media centres have been or are opening in four Toronto libraries, but operating funding beyond three years is uncertain. What will happen to the city’s recreation centres is still to be determined.
  • Social Planning Toronto is working on a report to track how youth are able to access community space in Toronto. They are finding attitudes are as important a barrier as availability of space.
  • The provincially-funded Community Use of Schools program has opened 77 schools in the TDSB, but the hours are restricted to after 6 p.m. on week-days and week-ends. Because of the identified deficit, Board staff are actively discouraging bookings on week-ends because of the added overtime costs which eat into this budget.

A few sparks of hope continue to emerge, though. The Toronto District School Board, for instance, is playing with new ideas like delayed starts for the school day and more “schools of choice.” Even with the sluggishness of strategies or the scarcity of funding, people are being creative. However, in the end, all this thinking won’t be enough.  While we create more strategies, another generation of youth is moving through their teens.

Loft Youth Centre for Social Enterprise and Innovation

Laidlaw Foundation:

Ontario Youth Matter

United Way Toronto

Youth Challenge Fund, Opportunities

Thanks to Bill for some of these.

Let me know if there are more that should be included.

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