Promises on curbing youth violence becoming action
As Toronto grapples with the shooting deaths of 3 black boys over the past month, the former Scarborough-area MPP who headed up a comprehensive report on ways to address violence among young people is clear:
There is more action being taken to tackle the issue than there appears.
"We have a lot to do because it is a huge, complex, issue but I think we are on a path to address those issues," says Dr. Alvin Curling, an ex-diplomat and former Speaker of the House.
After the mass shooting on Danzig Street left 2 young people dead last summer, the provincial government announced the Youth Action Plan, promising $20 million in annual funding to programs that fight poverty and a lack of engagement among young people in Ontario's poorest neighbourhoods.
The funding builds on recommendations from the Roots of Youth Violence report, co-chaired by Dr. Curling in the wake of the murder of Jordan Manners in 2007.
Dr. Curling says those provincial dollars are already at work, improving the lives of young people in Toronto's poorest neighbourhoods, but he says the problem is that once the money is spent or handed over to community groups, not enough is done to show how the money spent is having an effect.
"I spoke to the Ministry (of Children and Youth Services) and they want to get a website going so that we can update the community and the media on the progress of those programs," says Dr. Curling.
For example, the Youth Action Plan aims to set up more Family Literacy Centres in Toronto. They are free-to-use instructional programs made available in schools or community centres in so-called 'priority neighbourhoods' that make sure children know things like letters and numbers before they start kindergarten.
Dr. Curling says of 17 new centres planned, 4 will come to Toronto. They will start opening this September.
A program that gives youths a job for the summer is being ramped up. Dr. Curling says the team that will oversee the program's expansion are in place. They are in the process of finding corporate partners who, with a subsidy from the province, will hire young people living in poor neighbourhoods for the entire school year, not just the summer months. It will provide an extra 440 Toronto youths with employment by the end of this year.
Province-wide, the program already connects 4,000 youths with full-time summer jobs.
"I would say its off the ground," says Dr. Curling, "but I don't think we can say how many of those youths 440 positions are filled now but the infrastructure has been put in place."
As of October 1st, rewards for Crime Stoppers tips that lead to an arrest in a firearm-related offense have doubled.
The Youth Action Plan calls for the province to match tip rewards. For example, a tipster would be paid $1,000 for a information that would have only have been worth $500.
The initiative is restricted to Toronto, Peel, York, Durham, Halton, and Hamilton. It expires at the end of September of this year, unless it is extended by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
Dr. Curling says the Youth Action Plan is a good start in improving lives in Toronto's poorest neighbourhoods, but there is more work to do.
"We have to make sure housing situations are better, we can improve the relationships the police have with some communities, and we can look carefully at how we are incarcerating young people," he says.
Dr. Curling singles out city councillor Josh Matlow's efforts to tackle youth violence as an example of what's needed.
Last week, Matlow called for City Hall to map out a strategy to fight youth violence.
Dr. Curling says all levels of government need to act together and invest in long-term investments, rather than piecemeal projects.
"I don't think money is the issue right now because we've got enough money and resources," he says.
"It's how we co-ordinate it."