January 16, 2018
By Arianne Robinson
At a press conference on Wednesday, city councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Josh Matlow stood with Regent Park community organizers to move forward a transparent funding process for the Youth Equity and Poverty Reduction Strategies in this year’s budget.
Speaking to the media, one resident gave an idea of how his community members could have better access to recreation spaces and programs to help curb gun violence and increase jobs.
Ismail Afrah, a University of Toronto student and volunteer for the Regent Park Residents Association, told reporters that local parks and recreation spots are not being made available to those who need them most.
“The programming in Regent Park is accessible to the whole neighbourhood. It’s a free centre. It’s where everybody in the community who are marginalized, who are vulnerable, can get easy access to the programming,” Afrah said.
“However, there’s also a policy in place where [recreational programming] is open to the whole city. When registration happens with parks and rec, all across the city, people are competing to get into the same programming that was meant for marginalized communities.”
Sureya Ibrahim is a supervisor at the Centre for Community Learning & Development, and worked previously to help increase access to municipal recreation programs.
“What we were proposing is, open [registration] up the day before for the community members who are living locally … 50 percent of [spots] need to be saved locally for people who are living there. That’s doable, it’s not a hard thing to do,” Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim says the lives of young people lost to violence are at stake when it comes to the importance of access to recreation programs and facilities.
“Why are we bragging about the new buildings and why are we about the new pools that are not accessible. It’s not hard to make policies that protect the vulnerable people … this is doable.”
Ibrahim says better access is necessary in order to prevent young people in Regent Park from “going to the graveyard. It’s as simple as that. We are suffering and we our traumatized,” Ibrahim said.
The issue extends beyond recreation programs in Regent Park to the community centre, which Councillor Wong-Tam says has been co-opted for special purposes.
“No other community in the City of Toronto has had their community centres commandeered [as a] crisis centre over and over again – at the same time there are weekly shootings – weekly shootings in Regent Park. Not every bullet pierces skin or body – but these are jarring numbers that have to be addressed, and the community is coming up with proactive solutions that are very holistic in manner, and they’re trying to make sure they have access and at the same time not preclude anybody else,” Wong-Tam told reporters.