New project looks to stop youth violence and deal with impacts

For Abdulkadir Nur, the issue of violence in the community matters.

“It always seems to overshadow all the good that happens in communities,” says the Jane-Finch native who added that all residents of a neighbourhood are affected by the stigma of crime.  

“The idea of community violence puts a target on the whole community whereas in reality, it may just be a concentrated set of individuals contributing to all the crime and violence.”

Abdulkadir is one of four ‘mentors’ that will lead the Community Healing Project; it is a five-year federally funded project that will seek to make interventions in the lives of youth living in neighbourhoods that have witnessed violence.

In addition to the ‘mentors’, some 250 ‘healers’ will be trained over the life of the project to do outreach in the same neighbourhoods in order to provide a space to discuss issues such as mental health, provide supports for services and employment as well as building trust and relationships.

According to the City of Toronto, more than a 1,000 youth stand to benefit from the project and the projectr is in partnership with Stella’s Place, a non-profit youth mental health organization, and local organizations.

At a December press conference to announce the program’s launch, Canada’s Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair defended the program and the federal funds being put towards it.

“The program that we are funding today will make a real and lasting and positive difference in these kids’ lives,” Blair said.

As a graduate of the program’s pilot himself, Abdulkadir says the program also provides space for youth to look at how they can contribute to making their neighbourhoods safe.

“This program will help youth affected by violence by giving them an opportunity to be heard and voice their opinions on what is going on in their given communities and what they believe to be the reason for the violence.”

The issue of gun violence once again came into spotlight in 2018 after a record 51 gun-related homicides were recorded in the year.

In September however, Police told residents at a community event in Jane and Finch that firearm incidents were down in the area.

“I want my son to be able to access the world around him” – what the new changes mean for children on the autism spectrum and their families

Angela is a proud mom to a 13-year-old boy named Misha – he loves ice-skating, summer camp, recently was the recipient of his school’s Perseverance Award and lives with severe autism. Because of ABA therapy, Misha developed the skills he needed to live an ordinary life.

“There’s this quote that really resonates me: parents of kids without special needs want their kids to live extraordinary lives, and parents of kids with special needs want their kids to be able to live ordinary lives,” Angela shares.

But it is going to get harder for kids like Misha to be able to live ordinary lives – last month Ontario Conservative Minister Lisa Macleod revealed plans to change the province’s autism program. These changes have been largely criticized by not only the autism community but by experts and professionals in the field.

Angela explains that her son has been on-and-off the waitlist for years since he was diagnosed at 18-months. Misha first came off the waitlist when he was 3 went back on when he was 6. He received intensive and life-changing ABA therapy – therapy that would have cost around $80k out of pocket per year. The new Conservative plan does not fully cover any child’s therapy but instead offers what many families consider to be insufficient relief.

Once Misha was back on the waitlist, Angela and her husband worked full-time to be able to afford his treatment. 100% of her paycheck and a significant portion of her husband’s helped pay for this speech and ABA therapy as well as homecare. Angela not only worked full-time job but also designed the programs, managed the staff, and stayed up every night until 2am to learn more about the best treatments.

Unfortunately, this lifestyle was unsustainable – Angela reached her breaking point. She left her job and took measures to address her own health. Her family cut corners and implemented an even-more stringent budget to make-ends-meet. Life was manageably unmanageable – a reality too common for families coping with autism who do not have access to the resources they need.

Luckily, in April 2018, Misha came off the waitlist. He was able to get the therapy he needs – lifting a huge weight off Angela’s shoulders.

“I want my son to be able to access the world around him,” Angela shares – and with the help of years of fully-funded therapy, he can. Recently, Misha attended an overnight school trip – a trip he could only take because of the accommodations made and also because of the ABA therapy he has had. Despite his severe autism, Misha can put on his own clothes, can communicate effectively and has developed coping mechanisms when he feels overwhelmed.

Many consider the waitlist to be less than ideal but also reference it as a source of hope – without the possibility of fully-funded therapy, life with autism is extraordinarily bleak. This is why Angela and a group of parents have organized – they attended rallies, contacted their MPPs and organized their community demanding the government to not go through with these changes.

Angela recently spoke with her MPP Roman Baber when she shared Misha’s story with him and urged him to stand up for her family and families like hers. To her disappointment, Angela was met with hollow words of sympathy and an MPP who was steadfast in supporting his government.

Angela notes that Misha is not in the worst position. Children who are younger than him and their families will have little support. The new program no longer fully covers the ABA therapy Misha received as a child.

The repercussions and the fallout of this cut will affect thousands. Children living with autism will be integrated into a school system that is not ready for them. Many will not be able to afford the ABA therapy that has changed Misha’s life and these families will have to cope with financial and personal strain. The reverberations will be felt by many – affecting everything from classrooms to the mental health of families who cannot access the supports they need.

“It’s infuriating when the Ford Government says they’re for the people – if you’re for the people, then is my child not a person?” Angela expressed.

 

*Edits have been: other versions of this article misspelled MPP Roman Baber’s name.

State of Toronto’s 2019 budget

Our city faces many challenges, like affordable housing, strained infrastructure, climate change and social inequity. Our municipal government at City Hall has a responsibility to stay on top of these ongoing challenges by restructuring elements of Toronto’s budget. City Council must find ways to secure income and funding in order to provide us with the services that we need and rely on.

The City’s budget committee has approved a $13.46 billion operating budget for 2019. This year’s budget includes a 2.55% property tax increase, a 3% water rate increase, and a 10-cent TTC fare-hike.

Budget Chief, Councillor Gary Crawford, highlights that the 2019 budget operates without cuts to services and makes substantial investments in transit, policing and other important initiatives. Other councillors, including Councillor Mike Layton, don’t foresee the proposed budget rectifying issues effectively enough to sustain the growing needs of people throughout Toronto.

Layton says, “We need bolder solutions and a break from the status quo.” Layton also notes he would challenge other councillors to make the necessary investments in services like winter road maintenance – which is popular among many Torontonians after recent snowstorms.

The idea of building a prosperous city for everyone has become a guiding principle in the budgeting process, but that needs to be a reality supported by numbers.

While allocating more towards the TTC is critical for our future, the 10-cent fare hike will negatively impact many TTC riders – from students to seniors. TTC riders already pay some of the highest prices for transit in North America.  

The lack of affordable housing and homelessness are large issues here in Toronto. The City has reaffirmed its commitment to adding 1000 shelter beds by 2020, costing $62 million. Toronto Community Housing will be receiving $195 million towards priority repairs.

While these increases are seen as steps in the right direction, many demand more long-term investments in social housing, shelters and other supports in order to help alleviate the burden for those in need and Toronto’s record-high rents.

Many have either heard of or witnessed construction for the Basement Flooding Protection Program in their neighbourhood. This program provides the necessary upgrades to our sewer and watermain system to help ensure that we can handle heavy rainfall during serious storms. These upgrades further help to prevent basement flooding. This program costs $58 million and is one way that we can be better prepared for climate change at the municipal level.

Executive Committee must deliberate the budget before it moves ahead to be fully debated and finalized by the rest of City Council this month.

For more information, including a thorough breakdown and explanation of different elements of the budget, please visit: https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/budget-finances/city-budget/