It’s budget time at the City of Toronto. It’s a great opportunity to get involved in shaping the future of our City. Emily Paradis, President of West Neighbourhood House’s Board of Directors, presented the following to the budget subcommittee on January 18th. Contact your city councillor and tell them what is important to you by February 13th.
I am the president of the volunteer board of directors of West Neighbourhood House, a multi-service organization serving about 15,000 people a year from all ages and backgrounds.
On behalf of the House I congratulate and welcome our new members of Council. We look forward to working with you to continue building our great city.
Since 1912, West Neighbourhood House – the House as we call it – has been a neighbourhood “campfire” where people gather and work together. Around that campfire, we hear from the families and individuals we support how much municipal investments affect their day to day lives.
The importance of an active government role was made crystal clear during the pandemic. Despite social infrastructure severely weakened by long-term underinvestment, the City managed COVID well, in large part because budget decisions prioritized the well being of the most vulnerable Torontonians.
The 2023 budget is an opportunity to build on what we’ve learned and build back better. But as proposed, it will not move us towards that goal.
Like many other speakers here today, we are asking you to make four key improvements to this proposed budget.
First and foremost – Re-allocate $30 million from the proposed increase to the Toronto Police Services budget to further support evidence-based community safety programs.
The evidence is very clear we cannot police our way into achieving wellbeing and safety.
Secondly – Provide at least 2000 more shelter spaces, expand warming centres, and protect and build more deeply affordable housing.
For example, expand the impact of the excellent MURA program with an adequate budget allocation that allows us to meet housing priorities -such as conserving vital workforce housing for essential workers, and enabling seniors to age in place.
Third – Ensure that social spending keeps pace with inflation.
With an inflation rate of 6.6%, budget increases below inflation are effectively a cut.
Fourth – Maintain current TTC fares and maintain at least the current service levels on the TTC.
We cannot let our transit system fall into a death spiral of reduced services resulting is reduced ridership resulting in further financial cuts.
In particular, the proposed police budget increase, separate from collective agreement commitments, is wasteful. It is based on a claim that increased policing creates a safer city, which has been disproven over and over again by multiple studies, including the police’s own reports of the harm they do to many communities. We know that the more unequal societies become, the more polarization, violence and disorder they experience. We are left as a city with a manufactured choice between increasing social investments – or policing the consequences of not doing so. This is unacceptable.
The proven solutions for community safety are not weaponized. We welcome the proposed $1.6 million budget increase for 211 diversion pilots and an Indigenous-led support line – but this is a fraction of the amount proposed for the police budget. Instead, we need to see this $30 million and more go into crisis supports delivered by trusted community groups and expansion and stabilisation of funding for existing pilots. We also need to see greater investments in social programs, mental health and addiction services, shelters and housing to help people transition from experiencing crisis and truly create safety.
Budget choices are difficult and complex. But the people we serve will not accept being asked to pay more for less – less safety, less housing and shelter, less community services and less transit. We expect you, our Mayor and Councillors, to make hard choices, and put investments where they will have the greatest impact.
In wrapping up, West Neighbourhood House is committed to doing our part. We try to build bridges between diverse groups so that the things we all care about – safety, well-being, and belonging, are not such divisive conversations. We also will continue to advocate to the federal and provincial governments that hey meet the joint responsibilities for the well-being of Torontonians.
Volunteer President, West Neighbourhood House Board of Directors