In the face of ongoing violence and criticism over the lack of spending on community-based programs, Mayor John Tory is committing to $6 million in new spending to tackle youth violence.
Tory made the announcement Friday morning at the Falstaff community centre, near Jane Street and Highway 401. If approved by council as part of the 2020 budget, the investment would mark a shift from earlier spending proposals that had relatively little funding for this type of work — which experts say is badly needed.
The money would go directly to community groups through three years of grants of up to $200,000 specifically for youth violence prevention and 14 new safe spaces within city community centres and libraries — youth hubs that have proven to be hugely popular with young people.
Tory’s announcement followed the shooting deaths of three young men in the downtown Fort York neighbourhood over the weekend. Two other men were injured. Police identified those killed as Jalen Colley, 21, of Brampton, Joshua Gibson-Skier, 20, of Brampton and Tyronne Noseworthy, 19, of Toronto.
In a statement Saturday, Tory called the incident “completely unacceptable” and promised action this week.
The city is currently in the process of putting together its $13.53 billion operating budget, of which $6 million would be a relatively small increase. But Tory committed that all of the funds, if approved, would flow this year and that the programs would not have to wait for the money to be phased in.
Tory did not make immediately clear how he proposed to fund the new initiatives in that budget.
The commitments include:
- $2.1 million for community youth violence prevention grants, up to $200,000 each for 10-15 existing organizations and agencies doing youth violence prevention work for young people aged 10-29.
- $1.8 million for eight new youth hubs located in Toronto Public Library branches providing safe, dedicated spaces for youth people to get homework help, have a snack, participate in workshops and hang out.
- $1.2 million for six new youth hubs in community centres, which will operate in a similar way.
- $635,000 to fund the Regent Park social development plan proposed by staff but not included in this budget. The community-developed plan is focused on increasing safety and spurring economic and other opportunities.
- $100,000 for a Sunnybrook Hospital pilot called Breaking the Cycle of Violence with Empathy, which is meant to connect patients involved in community or gang-involved violence with interventions and other support services.
- $100,000 to expand the city’s crisis response grants to help communities rebuild after violence.
City staff and others have been trying to get council and other levels of government to fund proven community-based solutions that researchers say are the best hope of tackling the city’s gun violence problem in the long-term.
That’s based on research into the roots of youth violence, notably collected in a 2008 report to the province, along with ongoing studies that have found the need to address systemic problems of racism, poverty and other issues that have led to a dearth of equitable opportunities for young people in some areas — a lack of education, recreational options, safe spaces and job opportunities.
Since council approved a more than $50-million plan to tackle gun violence in 2018, a year that saw a particularly violent summer, the city has so far failed to fund most of the community-based initiatives, a gap of $26.2 million. The entire plan relied on funding from the provincial and federal governments, requests which were largely rejected.
Though Tory says he has continued to keep up the pressure on those governments, the money has not materialized and council has not covered the gap.
At the same time, funding requests for the Toronto police budget, like the one for $4.5 million to run a 13-week intelligence project, have been granted by all three levels of government.
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During the 2019 budget, Coun. Josh Matlow (Ward 12 Toronto-St. Paul’s), pushed for council to build 20 new youth hubs — what he said could put most of the city’s youth within two kilometres of one of those spaces. But Tory rejected the idea, calling it a “tough budget year.” It was not adopted.
Meanwhile, violence has taken a toll on the city’s youth. Since the anti-gun violence plan was approved in July 2018, but not properly funded, more than 50 people aged 13 to 29 — the target of the city’s programs to address the root causes of violence — have been killed in Toronto.
Only two of the city’s eight homicide victims so far this year have not been under the age of 30.