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John Bonnar is an independent journalist covering social justice events in and around Toronto through print, photo, audio, video and slideshows. You can connect with him on Facebook (John Bonnar) or on Twitter at @johnb98 or on YouTube at johnb98.

Ford cuts will devastate already struggling Toronto communities

| September 12, 2011
Photo: John Bonnar

Sarah Vance's daughter has been going to the Brock Early Learning Centre, a non-profit licensed child care located in Brock Avenue Public School, since she was five years old. Now ten, she attends morning and afternoon programs during the school year and full-day programs during the summer months.

At Brock, the ten-year-old gets help with her homework, works on arts and crafts projects and even learns to cook with the other children under the supervision of trained staff.

"It means that my child has a safe, engaging, positive, social experience that she can look forward to every day," said Vance, a single parent living on disability who works part-time. "It's a fantastic program with highly qualified teachers."

But without a full subsidy, Vance's daughter wouldn't be able to access before and after school care or summer programs at Brock. She'd be forced to walk to and from school alone and remain at home on her own for another two hours in the afternoon on the days her mother is at work.

"When I work I can't get to her before six o'clock," said Vance.

Although the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Society (CAS) does not identify an age when a child can be left alone, some chapters say that eight and nine-year-old children should not be left alone before or after school.

"I can almost guarantee there will be children under the age of ten who will lose their subsidy if this (cuts to core services) passes. This is not only inequitable and not good for children but it's actually unsafe too."

But in order to eliminate an $800 million budget deficit, the Ford administration has made up its mind to make major cuts to core services including libraries, child-care centres, community centres, shelters, drop-ins, parks and more that will affect thousands of people living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods across Toronto.

There is already a lack of community programming, services and investment, said Farid C. Partovi, a community worker in the Jane-Finch community for the past 15 years.

"So we expect an enhancement of services for the working poor, single parents, newcomers and racialized youth who already feel excluded from the system."

Sabrina "Butterfly" Gopaul, a mother with a 15-year-old son, has spent most of her life in the Jane-Finch community. She was "pushed out" of the community in the early '90s when, as a homeless teen, there were no programs and services available to her.

Even today, "community programs and services are heavily used and over subscribed for," said Gopaul. "Cuts will destroy families. My son goes to an arts-based school. And that program would be threatened."

Her son also participates in city run basketball camps and track and field groups where he's made friends and developed his social skills.

"And if his friends in his smaller community gets impacted where are they going to be?" asked Gopaul. "They're going to be on the streets. Who's on the streets? The police. And the police are criminalizing our young people."

Nigel Barriffe, a teacher and community organizer in Etobicoke, came to a public meeting to stop the Ford cuts held in Dufferin Grove Park on Saturday with a group who voted for Doug Ford in the last election.

"They felt that he was going to cut the gravy and at the same time not lose any of their services," said Barriffe. "But they're realizing now that it seems that they've been lied to."

In North Etobicoke, a lot of single mothers depend on child care. "Now you realize you're going to have at least 2,000 child care spots cut making it difficult for them to go to work and take care of their children too."

Since half the children that Barriffe teaches in Ford's ward don't have access to the Internet at home, the Etobicoke teacher takes his students to the neighbourhood library to obtain library cards at the beginning of each school year.

Then he teaches them how to use the library services so they can complete their homework assignments.

Barriffe said that Ward 2 residents also rely heavily on city run health and immigration services. "The cuts aren't going to affect Rosedale or Forest Hill in the same way it's going to affect us. So it's really an attack on the poor because we are more reliant on public services."

He also claims that the cuts have racist undertones.

"It's going to have a detrimental effect on black communities," said Barriffe. "We're the ones that are highly unemployed, have difficulty graduating from high school and even when we do have a diploma we have a tougher time finding a job compared to people from other communities."

The Toronto Stop the Cuts Network has been organizing in different communities across Toronto over the summer, building grassroots structures that are prepared to defend the proposed cuts to core services that will almost certainly take place next year to eliminate an $800 million deficit.

On Saturday, they held a mass meeting in Dufferin Grove Park where they broke out into small groups to draft a set of priorities for Toronto that they are planning to deliver to the Toronto City Council’s Executive Committee on September 19.

Over 600 people jointly wrote a declaration laying out their demands to city council which can be viewed and endorsed online by those who were unable to make the meeting on Saturday.

"If a community centre is going to be closed, they (the residents) are the ones who have the stake in it to stop it from being closed and the resources to support each other," said Jessica Lyons, an emergency room nurse and new mother who has been working in Toronto's West End with Toronto Stop the Cuts Network.

"This kind of networking lets us feel the strength."

But Lyons is further concerned that these cuts are just the beginning of a much broader austerity agenda by the mayor.

In the Downtown Eastside, Zoe Dodd works with people who use drugs and said the elimination of community grants would have serious consequences for harm reduction and needle exchange programs.

Because the federal government doesn't fund harm reduction programs, "it could mean a great deal to the lives of people in this city," said Dodd.

Needle exchanges programs have dramatically reduced HIV and Hepatitis C transmission rates.

"If we lose those grants, we'd be fanning the flames of an epidemic that we are trying to avoid."

The expense of removing used needles from the community while increasing access to sterile needles and syringes is nothing compared with HIV medications that cost an average of $1500 a month per person.

Just as harm reduction and needle exchange programs rely on community grants so too do most anti-violence women's services. But often these services need to receive city funding in order to qualify for funding from other levels of government.

"They could lose the confidence of federal and provincial partners, especially when we've got a federal government that is so much ideologically in line with the leadership at city hall," said Anna Willats, who has a long history in the women's anti-violence community in Toronto.

"Women who experience violence need affordable child care, affordable housing and access to public transit so they can support themselves and their families after they leave an abusive situation. If they can't, then they face the threat of having their children taken away."

During the summer, Vance's daughter attended full-day programs at Brock and participated in all kinds of activities at City Parks and Recreation facilities. She went to Marineland, the Ontario Science Centre and the movies.

All paid for through the subsidized day-care program. Breakfast, lunch and snacks too.

"It's a huge amount of money and it's just not doable for most parents," said Vance. "You just can't do that on a middle class or lower income."

If the cuts go through, parents will be forced to choose between quitting their jobs to stay home with their children, pushing them deeper into poverty, or leaving them at home alone while they are at work.

Click here to see more photos from the meeting.

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