In the late 1990s, the Provincial educational funding formula no longer funded community use of schools. This had two significant effects. One, fees for community groups to use school space skyrocketed. Two, as a direct result of one, there was a mass exodus of community groups from schools across the province; these groups’ programs, which served all age groups, were discontinued. A survey by the City of Toronto and United Way of Greater Toronto in 2002 found that in Toronto alone 43% of community groups left schools.
On the Front Lines of Toronto’s Community Service Sector: Improving Working Conditions and Ensuring Quality Services
For many thousands of Toronto residents, the services provided by community-based non-profit organizations are life-changing, life-affirming, even life-saving. These organizations provide such services as home care for the sick and elderly, shelter for victims of abuse and homeless people, settlement assistance for immigrants and refugees, training and other employment supports for the jobless, and a variety of other services for vulnerable groups.
The people who work on the front lines are committed to meeting the needs of their clients, providing high quality services and building stronger communities. They believe in what they do and they go the extra mile on behalf of individuals and groups who are often marginalized from mainstream society. But the conditions in which they work are becoming increasingly difficult.
Working on the front lines in the country's largest immigrant reception centre, Toronto's immigrant- and refugee-serving sector plays a central role in supporting the vast numbers of individuals and families crossing the globe to make a new home in Canada. Among immigrants arriving between 1996 and 2001, 280,000 or 29% of all recent immigrants to Canada settled in the City of Toronto (Statistics Canada, 2001). Taking into account growth patterns in immigration, Statistics Canada has projected that the immigrant population in Canada will increase from 5.4 million people in 2001 to between 7 million and 9.3 million people by 2017, with the majority settling in large urban centres (Statistics Canada, 2005). The already crucial role of Toronto's immigrant- and refugee-serving sector in facilitating the transition of newcomers to Canada will only grow in importance in the years to come.
Opening the Doors to Ontario’s Schools: Community Use of Schools Program, Year One Impacts and Opportunities
“Schools in Ontario are recognized as hubs for community activity and will be affordable and accessible to communities in order to support the goals of a healthier Ontario, stronger communities and student access.”
Community Recreation and Use Agreement, McGuinty Government, 2004
This vision outlined in Ontario’s Community Recreation and Use Agreement 2004 very appropriately sums up the importance of schools to communities. Few would disagree with the view that schools, whether it be the building or their grounds, are central in providing a place for community groups to meet and as a centre for community activities (Rozanski, 2002). This is certainly the case for Ontario, which has a long history of schools serving the community long after the last bell rings at 3:30 p.m. Community groups use schools to organize activities for all age groups: children, youth, adults and seniors. These activities are carried on after school, on weekends and in the summer.