Prior to the provincial Community Use of Schools Policy and funding (CUS), fees for community use of schools had risen sharply across Ontario, resulting in closures of programs and steep declines in use. The CUS program was launched in July 2004 with a $20 million investment, followed by a further enhancement in February 2008, with a province-wide plan to increase funding from $20 million to $66 million by 2012.
In March and April of 2009, SPACE (Saving Public Access to Community Space Everywhere), a provincial coalition, and Social Planning Toronto (SPT), a nonprofit community organization, conducted a follow-up survey to our 2005 and 2007 evaluations of the provincial CUS policy, program and funding (SPACE/CSPC-T, 2005; SPACE/CSPC-T, 2007). We received 358 survey responses from organizations across Ontario. This year we also investigated community access to municipal facilities.
The Alexandra Park neighbourhood, located in the south west corner of downtown Toronto, is home to over 2,000 residents, and consists of both the Atkinson Housing Co-operative and two Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) buildings. It is a culturally diverse community and one in which a majority of the residents live on a fixed income.
Recently, through discussions involving the City of Toronto and TCHC, the Alexandra Park community has begun development of a revitalization plan in order to improve conditions in the neighbourhood. The Alexandra Park Visioning Committee, consisting of key stakeholders and neighbourhood residents, was formed to help guide this process
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.