The operators of a youth centre, providing mostly free programming for underprivileged children in three downtown neighbourhoods, warn they will be forced to close without financial help.
The Cabbagetown Youth Centre began as a boxing club nearly 50 years ago. Over the years it expanded to include space below the boxing ring, including a gymnasium.
The centre’s volunteer executive director said the loss of several grants, however, has forced the operation to scale back its programming. Now the centre only has enough money to continue operating until March.
“We will be ending our after-four program at the end of this year,” said Lucy Troisi.
“We already cut a number of programs in 2019. By March of 2020, all our other core programs will end. We just don’t have any funding.”
The former city councillor, raised in Regent Park, said she has experience with poverty and knows the importance of free programs offered at the Cabbagetown Youth Centre.
Recently, she’s been looking at every angle possible to keep the doors open.
“I’ll be damned if this centre closes,” she said, standing in one of its brightly-painted rooms.
The recent financial hardships stem from a combination of rising operation costs and a decline in grant funding. For the first time ever, Troisi said, the centre started asking for a suggested donation of $50 for students in the afternoon drop-in program.
That saw enrolment cut in half because most families couldn’t afford it.
“The city and other levels of government really need to pay attention when crime and child poverty has drastically increased and access to recreation has become a challenge in these neighbourhoods,” said Troisi.
A member’s motion, drafted by Ward 13 – Toronto Centre Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam will be presented at city council on Tuesday to try and find money for it to continue.
“Recreation services are at its capacity,” said Wong-Tam.
“There are massive long waiting lists overall, city-wide.
“If you have a facility that’s operating well, that actually provides valuable service for a community — especially for communities that are oftentimes with at-risk youth — you want to be able to save them and you want to be able to expand those services.”
The councillor will ask staff to come up with a plan for the budget committee for interim funding options. That would help the centre to support core programs for the next year.
But Wong-Tam is also pitching a much more long-term plan. She wants to look at transferring the Cabbagetown Youth Centre’s estimated $3.5-million real estate to the city in exchange for the city’s takeover of operations.
Troisi said she thinks it’s a good idea, but she would also like to see the province and corporations pitch in to do more.
The community and local businesses have been very supportive, she said. But Troisi said it’s beyond the point where local fundraising endeavours will keep the doors open.
“There isn’t enough sustainable funding” she said.
The boxing club that began it all is also at risk of closing. Former Olympic boxer Johnny Kalbhenn volunteers his time teaching kids there four times a week. Without the club and the resources it offers, he said neighbourhood children will have more time to find trouble.
“They need something to get rid of their frustration and anger,” said Kalbhenn.
“I mean these kids, I love them to pieces.”