The City of Toronto may soon fund new after-school programs, keep some libraries open until midnight and offer TTC discounts to more low-income residents as part of the city's latest bid to tackle poverty.
The plan sets out the city's anti-poverty strategy from now until 2022. It will be considered by Mayor John Tory's executive committee Thursday. If the executive committee approves the report, it will go before city council on Nov. 26.
"Growing economic and social inequality is a significant threat to the long-term success of the city," according to the report by Giuliana Carbone, Toronto's deputy city manager of community and social services.
Carbone goes on to explain that the latest iteration of the city's poverty reduction plan places "a more deliberate focus" on using the powers of municipal government to create systemic changes.
That approach may be increasingly important, since the report also notes Toronto's volatile relationship with the Ford government, which attempted to cut nearly $178 million in city funding this year.
"These are areas that are no under the city's control alone," said Mayor John Tory of the recommendations, who called on Queen's Park and Ottawa to back the program.
"Simply put, we need to see increased, not decreased, investment from those governments."
Toronto's 20-year poverty reduction strategy was first approved in 2015, and is scheduled to be updated every four years until 2035.
According to Canadian census data, one in four children and one in five adults live in poverty in Toronto.
Some of the proposed changes and targets include:
- Reducing waiting lists for recreation programs in low-income communities.
- Creating "high quality" after-school programs in 31 designated neighbourhoods.
- Implementing the Toronto Public Library's Open Hours Plan, which will keep libraries open for an additional 58,000 hours across the city annually.
- Expanding access to the Transit Equity Fare Program, which offers a 33-per-cent discount on TTC fares and a 22-per-cent discount on monthly passes to low-income riders.
- Developing a poverty reduction strategy for Indigenous residents.
- Creating "new pathways" for low-income residents to become city employees.
- Investing in programs that deliver nutritious food at public sector and community organizations.
"Every dollar that we put into helping people out, we get it back many times over," said Coun. Antony Perruzza, Toronto's anti-poverty advocate.
He pointed to the proposed TTC discounts as a particularly important initiative, and said executive committee should expand the program "much faster" than planned.
The strategy largely addresses housing issues through support of the city's forthcoming 10-year housing plan, which is expected to address affordable housing and homelessness.
Lack of services 'an emergency'
Residents in low-income and other marginalized communities say some of the proposals are urgent and must be quickly brought to life.
"I think this has to be an emergency," said Sureya Ibrahim, who works at the Centre for Community Learning and Development and lives in Regent Park.
She says her community struggles due to a lack of services, which has resulted in young people turning to gangs and drugs. Many parents in Regent Park, she said, work long hours and would greatly benefit from quality programs for their children.
"Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the trauma that I see in the community, because there are no meaningful after-school programs, there are no recreation programs and there is no meaningful hiring for the young people," Ibrahim told CBC Toronto.
She welcomes the proposed expansion of community programs and said longer library hours could also be a valuable change.
The goal, Ibrahim says, is to keep young people away from violence and steer them toward "meaningful employment."
Another low-income community advocate says Toronto is generally moving in the right direction, however, she adds the city has much work to convince residents that positive changes are coming.
Can city earn residents' trust?
"People have lost confidence in the city," said Alejandra Ruiz Vargas, a member of ACORN Canada, which advocates for low and moderate-income families.
Around her home in St. James Town, she says neighbours have become disillusioned with the city government, especially when it comes to affordable housing and the need for repairs at Toronto Community Housing units.
Ruiz Vargas says the city's next housing plan will have to include major changes, including an updated definition of affordable housing that is tied to a resident's income and not market rates.
She says people are also demanding more protection from "renovictions," in which a landlord uses renovations as a guise to force out tenants and raise rents.
Given those ongoing challenges, she says many people struggle in poverty, and "don't really believe the city is on their side."
Although the report does include a focus on decisions within the city's scope, funding for the city is largely directed by the province.
The report also says that anticipated regulatory and funding changes by the Ford government will likely have "significant consequences" for the city's poverty plan.