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The first of five neighbourhood forums saw about 70 people discuss community safety improvements
About 70 people learned about ongoing community initiatives and pitched their own thoughts about health and safety in the Cabbagetown South, Garden District and Moss Park neighbourhoods Wednesday evening.
Local residents were able to bring their experiences and concerns to roundtable discussions, which included questions around the challenges they face living in the neighbourhood, the adequacy of emergency response and their thoughts on solutions.
The forum was hosted by Toronto Centre Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam at Central Neighbourhood House in Cabbagetown.
Many in the room agreed that more support is needed to make the community a safer place to live in.
Howard Bortenstein, who has been a resident of Cabbagetown for 28 years, says he lives in a neighbourhood full of great people but recognizes there are problems.
“There’s an enormous amount of stress, chronic stress, in the neighbourhood on all sides,” he said. “And so, I think the goal should fundamentally be that everyone deserves to be safe [and] feel safe.”
While Bortenstein felt good about the forum, he feels that there needs to be more translation into action.
“Over the years, I’ve been to many, many of these, and I just don’t get a sense that it always does anything,” said Bortenstein. “If this generates more advocates of change, then it’s good. But I just don’t see this as a placebo for action.”
Toronto Centre is the most supported ward for policing services despite being the smallest in geographical size. However, Wong-Tam also said that at city council budget meetings she often has to push other ward councillors dealing with these issues to understand why Toronto Centre needs more resources to deal with housing, drug addiction, crime, mental health and childcare issues.
According to data from the City of Toronto, there are over 8,700 homeless people in Toronto, though Wong-Tam says there is likely several thousand more. Also, 45.2 per cent of Toronto Centre children are living in poverty, which is the fourth-highest rate in Canada.
These are just a few of the many statistics that Wong-Tam used to push for the Downtown East Action Plan to develop community needs in the area.
“We compelled city council to understand that what we were going through, based on these statistics, we needed more,” said Wong-Tam. “We needed more services but we needed them to be smarter, more innovative, be funded properly, we needed them to be better coordinated and we needed to work together to close the service gap.”
The five community initiatives presented:
- Downtown East 2023 Action Plan — Approved by city council in July 2019, the plan is addressing community needs in the Downtown East. Emily Martyn, project manager, says that the nearly complete revitalization of Regent Park and the ongoing revitalization of George Street may push criminal activities to the Sherbourne Corridor, and that this plan includes safety coordination efforts, such as increased collaboration between police and community services, to counter this.
- Wellesley House Institute — A think-tank on urban health, Wellesley Senior Fellow Nina Acco-Weston says that its data and recommendations are informing city council in its decisions, including a recent report in collaboration with the YMCA.
- Neighbourhood Community Officer Program — The officers of 51 Division not only deal with criminal activities but they are working daily with at-risk youth, seniors and other vulnerable people needing social services. According to Sgt. Henry Dyck, four community officers have recently been hired on in the area, meaning more coverage from 7 a.m. to midnight each day.
- Toronto Public Health — Lisa King, Community Health Officer, says that Toronto Public Health has outreach on the streets every day, dealing with prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction.
- Building Roots — Started in 2013, the grassroots initiative works towards addressing the need for fresh food and agricultural growing spaces in the area. Darcy Higgins and Lisa Kates talked about the Moss Park Market, an accessible grocery store inside of a shipping container at 260 Queen St. E.
The Healthy Neighbourhood Forum was the first of five being held this fall by the Wong-Tam.
The forums stem from the first Healthy Neighbourhood Summit hosted by Wong-Tam in 2017, in former Ward 27, which went towards developing the immediate 12-month and five-year Downtown East Action Plans.