A downtown recreation centre offering after-school and summer programs for hundreds of youth in high-priority areas is at risk of closing early next year if they can’t secure more funds, the centre’s executive director says.
Lucy Troisi, a former manager in the city’s parks and recreation division and appointed councillor in the previously split Toronto Centre ward, says without at least $350,000 in additional funds the Cabbagetown Youth Centre will be forced to close by March 2020.
The centre is now asking the city to step in to help after a substantial provincial grant ran out in March.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 13 Toronto Centre) has tabled a motion at council, to be considered Wednesday afternoon, asking that city staff evaluate the Cabbagetown Youth Centre’s programming and financial situation immediately.
“They’re living on fumes,” said Wong-Tam, who wants staff to assess the situation before council decides if and how to help.
The youth centre was founded in 1972 as a boxing club in a vacant downtown east warehouse by Cabbagetown-area police officer Peter Wylie, the Star has reported, who later saw the space as a way to provide direction to at-risk youth. He quit his police job in 1985 to help save the club from financial ruin.
Today, the club remains a much expanded youth hub, offering after-school care, sports programs, homework help and summer camps that serve communities beyond Cabbagetown’s borders and as far as Rexdale and Scarborough in the summer months.
The two-storey centre contains a boxing ring and facilities, gym, kitchen and playroom. Staff also make use of local schools across the city for the summer camps.
Troisi, who shared the centre’s financial information for 2019 and proposed budget for 2020 with the Star, said that the centre has already raided its reserves and is now dipping into a line of credit to keep the centre open. Troisi herself is now a volunteer, having taken herself off the payroll in September.
“Access to recreation is one big issue, but child poverty is drastic in these neighbourhoods as well as crime is on the increase,” said Troisi, who grew up in Regent Park and said she understands how important centres like hers are to parents and youth. “What puzzles me is here we have a not-for-profit organization that has a gymnasium, has a boxing club, has (a) meeting room, multi-purpose room and has access to board of (education) facilities and yet we can’t sustain funding, enough funding to operate.”
A provincial grant totalling $1 million over four years for youth empowerment programming ran out in March and hasn’t been replaced, said Troisi.
The centre has applied to the federal government for replacement funding for youth programming, but will not learn if they will be recipients until early in the new year, Troisi said.
The centre will receive just over $343,000 in 2020 from the province through the Toronto District School Board for their summer camp program as well as nearly $75,000 from the federal government through a grant that helps to employ youth. But even the summer camp program is at risk if the centre can’t keep its doors open and the administrative functions running, Troisi said.
At the end of December, Troisi said they’ll be forced to close their popular after-school program, which allows dozens of kids between junior kindergarten and up to the fifth grade in St. James Town, Cabbagetown and Regent Park to participate in recreation and other activities until 6 p.m. on weekdays.
This fall, the centre was forced to do something it has never done before, Troisi said, which was asking parents for $50 to register for the after-school program.
“Having user fees is really something that goes against my grain because I know how any type of fee is a barrier,” Troisi said.
The centre also cannot open any evening or weekend at the current funding level, she said.
Of the $350,000 they hope to secure from the city, Troisi said $100,000 would go to maintaining core programs and $250,000 to salaries. The centre already receives more than $72,000 from two separate city divisions.
Assuming that new funding from the city, the centre has budgeted to receive just over $1 million in grants from three levels of government, $65,000 in donations and $11,000 in other income in 2020.
Get more Toronto politics in your inbox
Get an inside look at what’s really going on at City Hall in our Hall Monitor email newsletter.
Wong-Tam’s motion notes that with the loss of grant funding, the centre is facing “imminent closure.” If approved, the motion would see staff report back in mid-January, ahead of the city’s operating budget being approved in February.
Asked if it was feasible for the city to contribute $350,000 more in operational funding, Wong-Tam said “anything is possible” subject to the will of council during budget time.
Wong-Tam said that after speaking with community members and officials at the centre and city, its clear the centre offers programs that are reaching kids the city may not be — noting long wait-lists for recreation programs at free centres in communities like Regent Park and unique programs offered at the Cabbagetown facility like stomp dance lessons and boxing.
In addition to the motion now before council, Troisi said she hopes to meet with provincial ministers responsible for children and education to make the case for the centre.