City Budget, Shelter Updates & Celebrating Local Talent!
It’s Groundhog’s Day, and our furry meteorologist is calling for six more weeks of winter. Whether or not that’s true, I certainly look forward to some milder temperatures and more daylight hours! Fortunately, there’s an excellent opportunity to raise our collective spirits coming up: join me in celebrating a decade of the one-of-a-kind Wychwood Barns! The Wychwood Barns Community Association (WBCA) is hosting the 512 Talent Show on March 3. Get your ticket soon!
Wychwood Open Door’s 10th annual Trivia Night is taking place on February 10! Tickets for this popular event are already sold out, but if you are in a position to help support this important social service organization I encourage you to contribute to their fundraising efforts.
One urgent concern for the springtime, on which I have been focusing my efforts, is around what happens to the City’s street-involved population when over 700 winter respite spaces close on April 15. Gratefully, Council voted unanimously to keep respite centres open through the year to ensure no one is forced onto the street. Read more about shelter initiatives below.
Our current goal of creating 1000 new shelter beds will help meet the bare minimum of our shelter standard, the 90% occupancy rate. Nonetheless, while I am proud of our progress in the last few months and pleased that we have found political momentum to address the crisis, there is much to be done to isolate and fund the causes of extreme poverty and homelessness. We need now to redouble our efforts on developing affordable and supportive housing.
The City Budget, though set annually, is where longer-term planning is carried out – or not – and it’s my job as a councillor and Budget committee member to keep an eye on the big picture. As we get closer to the final Budget vote on February 12 and 13, we are seeing more members of Council commit to fund some important new investments and program enhancements. These include transit investments (like the 2-hour transfer and limited monies to address on-peak crowding), the Poverty Reduction Strategy (including opening the Fair Pass program for Ontario Works and ODSP recipients, Toronto Public Library enhancements, and the Student Nutrition Program), TransformTO, and child care. In addition, advocates have successfully pushed Council members to double down on their commitment to reducing waitlists for recreation programs. We are anticipating an extra 20,000 rec program spaces to be made available in 2018.
The above developments passed through Budget Committee, and these are all good things. What is more concerning to me is that Torontonians must fight tooth and nail just to keep service levels where they are, let alone expand them to meet demand. Every Grade 4 student in this city should have the chance to learn how to swim, so we need to accelerate the roll-out of Swim to Survive in the Parks and Recreation budget. Fire Services’ hiring practices need some attention so that the force better reflects Toronto’s diversity. If you’re a rider of public transit, you know that our vehicles are crowded well over capacity, and a million dollar investment won’t have a noticeable relief effect for most people. We need an additional $3.2 million to address on- and off-peak crowding, starting as soon as extra buses are available on September 1. I will be calling on Council to take true leadership and adequately fund these promises.
Unfortunately, like the movie Groundhog Day, it feels like we are living through the same dismal Budget scenario year after year. By repeating the same problematic behaviours – forcing austerity, raiding our rainy-day funds to balance the books, and refusing to fund social services – we are bound to the same results, which are mediocre at best and harmful at worst. It’s time for the City of Toronto to live up to its full potential, take some redemptive, stronger actions to address our growing social inequities.
If you’re interested in joining the conversation on how we reduce systemic poverty in Toronto, please save the dates for the upcoming Poverty Reduction Strategy discussion series. On Mondays throughout March and April, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Office and I will host community conversations around each of the pillars of poverty reduction: Housing, Health, Mobility, Access to Services, and Quality Jobs, all within the lens of systems change. I look forward to the dialogue and hope to see many Torontonians come out as well!
Councillor Joe Mihevc
Ward 21, St. Paul’s West