Critics of mayor David Miller whipping themselves into a frenzy because he was slow to visit neighbourhoods where shootings occurred should chill.
Fact is, no pol in this city has ever done more to address the sources of urban violence than our level-headed mayor and his Advisory Panel on Community Safety.
Along with partners in business and other governments, the blue-ribbon panel handpicked by Miller has now kick-started a rash of initiatives for at-risk young people. Call them crime-busting enterprises.
These include employment programs, skills training, mentoring projects, free use of schools for community activities and court diversions through which selected youth can avoid getting snarled in the justice system and instead have their cases dealt with by committees of the attorney general.
Among the prominent achievements Miller outlines in a new report is the MYLIFE Project headed up Ryerson University social work professor Anthony Hutchinson and community planner Richard DeGaetano of the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto.
According to Hutchinson, MYLIFE (Malvern Youth Leadership, Inclusion, Facilitation and Enabling Project) has helped turn around the lives of at least 35 youths by putting those with meagre or no previous job experience into well-paid jobs at Ryerson as youth leaders and facilitators.
Employees of the program earn $10 an hour, something Hutchinson insisted on. "I was adamant about not paying them minimum wage. I didn't want to have a cop-out kind of project. If we're going to offer young people opportunities, don't offer them bottom-of-the-barrel opportunities."
For Hutchinson, launching the program was personal - he's lived in the Malvern community since 1993.
Participants, who range from 15 to 21, work as community researchers and focus group facilitators. They receive training from Ryerson professors who volunteer their time to teach them such skills as how to run a focus group in their high schools.
"What participants wanted to do was record the voices of their peers in their community to find out what were the issues that were important to them, given that this community (Malvern) had been stigmatized by the media. They wanted to know the reality of these youth,"he says.
At Centennial College there's another Community Safety Plan project headed by coordinator Mandy McKinley. It started out as a program for Malvern residents but has been expanded to include Kingston Galloway, a fourth high-risk neighbourhood recently added to Miller's list. It offers training to people who are out of school to prepare them for the job market.
"I can't imagine a program like this taking place three or four or five years ago. But now it seems like how could we not have had this three or four or five years ago?"
Now in its second year, the Centennial program offers six training courses in video production, audio recording for music, first aid/CPR, Afro-Caribbean drumming, basic air conditioning and refrigeration repair and an automotive clinic. The courses are free, and the only requirement is that participants be between the ages of 13 and 29. Centennial supplies free textbooks, and Hope Church in the Malvern area provides free transportation.
According to McKinley, seven of the 2004 graduates are taking continuing education courses, five are attending Centennial full-time, five received apprenticeship placements, four returned to high school, four are now serving on the Toronto police services' 42 Division youth council and three are working part-time in Centennial's financial aid office.
Hutchinson says programs like these trump simply deploying more cops to patrol city streets. "We can hire five to 10 youth and pay them a meaningful wage for the price of one police officer. I'm talking about hiring five to 10 youth and preventing them from going into a negative lifestyle, and you wouldn't even need one police officer."