Jane Finch Action Against Poverty wishes to submit this report on the substance and process of the city’s action around City of Toronto Strong Neighbourhood Strategy 2020.
The true strategy
It is clear that the city wants to reduce funding to areas that were formally known as “Priority Neighbourhoods.” The community consultations have been frustrating and ineffectual and the Strong Neighbourhood Strategy has deliberately designed consultations that have prevented collaborative community consultations and authentic dialogue
At the November 3013 ‘consultation’, community residents were placed in a difficult position having to select which areas of need were most important to them.
The City used a rigid model of analysis that did not reflect the diverse needs of the various communities across Toronto. The data collected was skewed to show that in most communities all of the key areas (healthy lives, physical surrounding, economic opportunities, social development, and participation in decision making) were equally important. This is why this strategy was an ineffective and a wasted exercise.
The policies that will be made as a result of the report will have a profound impact on residents across the city that have not been able to adequately have their concerns and questions answered.
But the process failed to consult us in a more crucial way. We need to be fully informed as to the funding consequences before making recommendations in regards ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Areas’.
Crucial questions were asked, but not answered at any of the consultations, including:
• What was the level of funding that supported the Priority Neighbourhood program?
• What is the level of funding proposed for the new program?
• Why is the City of Toronto depending on businesses/ corporations to invest in neighbourhood improvement areas instead of sustaining the important programs currently offered?
• What has happened to the Poverty by Postal Code report in relation to priority neighbourhoods? Specifically, how is poverty being addressed in the new strategy?
The process problem
This consultation process was flawed from the beginning. Only after an open protest letter from JFAAP and other organizations did the city schedule the November 5th, 2013 meeting at Oakdale Community Centre. Clearly the input from the Jane and Finch Neighbourhoods and the broader Black Creek area was an afterthought. It was JFAAP and other community partners who canvassed the community, arranged for food, child care and TTC tokens for the meeting. Our efforts resulted in more than 200 people attending the largest turnout in this process. Apparently the city did not consider any of these access prerequisites to be important parts of their “consultation.”
Those attending were presented with a set of meaningless “keys” instead of addressing true needs of our community. These were crudely adapted from a model used by the World Health Organization which deals with global poverty (i.e. access to clean drinking water, education, sanitation, etc.) This excluded issues of local concern such as access to housing, low minimum wages, transit city, City cutbacks, over policing, etc. All of these were brought up by community residents in the follow-up meeting but none of these issues were addressed.
We have therefore come to conclusion that this community consultation was not a discussion about strategies to improve neighbourhoods, but a meeting to prepare us for the cutting of services which residents opposed passionately.
Youth and seniors in attendance demonstrated both their serious disappointment with the City and a very high level of knowledge of community issues, challenging the top-down approach of the City officials with reasoned arguments. Mothers brought up concerns about diminishing recreation access, police harassment of their children and housing.
The high level of participants’ knowledge and articulation of our community issues by a wide-range of community residents clearly showed to the City officials and elected representatives that they cannot and must not take our community for granted.
The Jane/Finch community, like many other systematically excluded and disadvantaged communities in Toronto, faces serious issues when it comes to poverty, that were not acknowledge by the City’s staff in their presentations:
• high unemployment and underemployment,
• low wages,
• bad jobs,
• inadequate housing,
• targeted policing
• diminishing recreation opportunities
• structural racism and classism
As a result, many came away from the meeting with the impression that we were not there to be listened to. Some used the term “amateurish” to describe how the meeting was organized and the process used. For us, this whole thing was just a show consultation.
The meeting of service providers in January 2014 was handled just as badly. It began with a long, tedious overview and power point. Two models of “data analysis” were presented which were problematic because they did not leave room for alternative models to be presented. Few, if any of the attendees felt that they understood these models or their implications for implementation since, again, no clear financial outcomes were shown.
There appeared to be a consensus in the room that the presentation and the data provided lacked clarity and hence could not/should not be discussed.
Other points were raised such as:
• the “report” was not a report,
• the “consultation” process was not consultative
• like the original Fall meetings, these were not accessible to the public.
• that a true consultation would have to involve community leaders and residents and that this process, as a result, lacked integrity.
• that community groups are very concerned about this “process” and how decisions will be made.
• When asked if some priority neighbourhoods would be cut, the responses given were designed to reassure but remained vague and did not provide straightforward answers.
Clearly, the concerns raised in November remain. The voices of community residents were not being heard and that those who were “heard” were not being listened to.
JFAAP makes the following recommendations that:
• The City rejects the staff report because the consultation process was flawed.
• The City consult community residents and organizations in the priority neighbourhoods to determine key areas of ‘improvement’ using concrete financial models,
• The City continue provide the same level of funds to the 13 formerly named ‘Priority Neighbourhoods until this process is redone,
• Consider using poverty in Toronto as a basis for neighbourhood improvement (re-evaluate key areas that were set in the United Way’s Poverty by Postal Code report in 2004 which initiated the priority neighbourhood program),
• Freeze police funding in order to support and provide resources to the existing programs and services that were developed through the Priority Neighbourhood designation.
JFAAP is submitting this report as an appendix to the final report from city staff.
CC: All city councillors
Jane Finch Action Against Poverty
February 28, 2014