Alarmed by statistics that show Torontonians in many pockets of the city are lacking basic community support, the YMCA of Greater Toronto announced an ambitious $250-million fundraising campaign this week that will fuel the construction of 10 new centres by 2020. The first five have already been given the green light, targeting ethnically diverse, low- to middle-income neighbourhoods. Here's a snapshot of the communities that will soon be getting a helping hand.
Community makeup:This Scarborough neighbourhood currently numbers 380,000 people and is projected to grow to 426,765 by 2021. Sixty-five per cent of the population of Steeles-L'Amoreaux are immigrants.
Challenges: The community is badly under-serviced, including hospital care. Fifty-one per cent of the residents are physically inactive.
Impact: The 100,000-square-foot facility, to be located behind shuttered Timothy Eaton BTI School, is a partnership between the city, United Way Toronto, Scarborough Hospital and the YMCA. The hospital will run a dialysis clinic, the United Way will have a hub, and the YMCA will operate a full-service fitness/health centre. "The area has been deemed a priority neighbourhood by the city, with a mix of high-rise apartments with lower-than-average-income families, as well as a suburban pocket with middle-income family homes," says David Layton, vice-president of asset development for the YMCA. "There's real diversity there and the community desperately needs more services. We felt we could have a real impact there, as an anchor in a project with mixed uses."
CHERRY STREET YMCA
Community makeup:The city's long-term plan for the West Don Lands community, marked as the site of the 2015 Pan Am Games, is an ambitious retail/residential/commercial space that will house a population expected to increase 13.5 per cent by 2020.
Challenges:Currently, it's surrounded by mainly rental households where 30 per cent of families have children at home, with 16 per cent in low-income households
Impact:When the Pan Am Games roll out of town in two years, the YMCA will take over a 70,000-square-foot green building that will also house a 300-bed residence for students of George Brown College. It will hold a gym, swimming pool, fitness studios, and support over 8,000 people. Mr. Layton said the housing being built for 10,000 athletes and coaches will eventually be turned into condos with two- or three-bedroom units, as well as three separate buildings allotted for community housing.
KINGSTON ROAD YMCA
Community makeup:The Upper Beach area, unlike its namesake neighbourhood to the south, is home to an ethnically diverse population who live in a mix of highrises and single-family homes.
Challenges: The neighbourhood has a high rate (17.5 per cent) of youth unemployment, and 53 per cent of residents are physically inactive.
Impact: A YMCA has long operated here, but its service – due to limited space – was primarily nursery-school care, says Mr. Layton. Along with a developer, the YMCA plans to tear the existing building down and construct a 24,000-to-30,000-sq.-ft. building that will anchor a condominium. It will offer a gym, Pilates studio, child care and kids' programming.
VANAULEY STREET YMCA
Community makeup:Adjacent to Alexandra Park public housing, and abutting Kensington Market-Chinatown, this neighborhood-in-transition currently houses 68 per cent of Toronto's homeless. When the squeegee kids hit the scene in the late nineties, a multitude of services (but still not enough) popped up to offer support for at-risk youth in the area.
Challenges:The YMCA has operated in this area since 1986, offering young men a place to sleep and something to eat. Now they are expanding into a building across the street from the original shelter. While there is no room for a fitness/health component at the 11,000-square-foot facility, it offers services to complement the shelter's guests, such as substance- and gambling-abuse programs and counselling and employment services, as well as literary and educational support. "We see about 50 to 70 youth a day here," says its manager, Louise Smith. "This is a precarious time for street-involved, homeless youth in this neighbourhood since a number of other support centres have closed or moved out."
Impact: "Basically, we're day-time support – a place where these young people can come in and get re-connected," says Ms. Smith, adding they work in collaboration with other community agencies offering legal support, a public-health nurse, art programs, and transitional housing support. "It's a low-barrier centre where they can get eat, and get a bit of a breather."
KIPLING AVENUE YMCA
Community makeup: The city has long been trying to redevelop this traffic-heavy intersection, which merges with Bloor West, to make it more user friendly and facilitate a closer-knit community feel.
Challenges:Under-served in terms of health and fitness centres, according to the city, 51.7 per cent of the population here is physically inactive, and almost 20 per cent are obese or overweight.
Impact:To be located on the site of the former Westwood Theatre, this 60,000-square-foot YMCA will serve more than 8,100 people, offering a pool, gym, youth games room, children's activity zone, meeting space, childcare and fitness studios. Mr. Layton hopes that subway users from outside the Dundas/Kipling pocket will also take advantage of the amenities, widening the scope of the community.