Toronto

Regent Park kids being squeezed out of their own pool, Toronto councillor says

Families from across the city are flooding into Regent Park's state-of-the-art recreational facilities, shutting out local kids from low-income families, according to the local city councillor.

70% of pool users coming from other, more affluent neighbourhoods

Sureya Ibrahim, a mother of three, says in the past she's given up trying to enrol her children in city-run recreation programs in her neighbourhood. (Mike Smee/CBC)

Families from across the city are flooding Regent Park's state-of-the-art recreational facilities, shutting out local kids from low-income families, according to the city councillor.

More than two-thirds of the people using the new aquatic centre and community centre, among other amenities, are from outside the area, Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam wrote in a report to the economic development committee this week.

"As a result of the surging demand for recreation services in a growing city and across the downtown neighbourhoods, Regent Park residents have experienced tremendous difficulty in accessing programs offered in their own neighbourhood," her report notes.

"An informal poll conducted at the aquatic centre revealed that 70 per cent of the users travelled from outside of the neighbourhood to use the swim programs there," the document reads.

Swimmers at the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre enjoy the pool in what has been designated a Neighbourhood Improvement Area.

Wong-Tam is calling on the city to give priority to children from Regent Park when it comes to enrolling youngsters in recreation programs in that neighbourhood's facilities.

The committee amended her motion Wednesday, directing staff to work with the Access to Recreation Group in Regent Park "to address local access to recreation services." They're to present possible solutions by the fall.

Parents 'frustrated'

At Regent Park Friday, some parents told CBC Toronto of waiting in lineups outside the pool for hours in the middle of the night to register their children for the coveted recreation programs — and even then, they weren't always successful.

Wong-Tam said local people face technological barriers when it comes to securing a spot in the city's popular recreational programs. Because many of the residents come from low-income backgrounds without high-speed internet, they have trouble competing with applicants from more affluent backgrounds. 

Spaces in the city's popular, low-cost programs are offered online and by phone, which means parents with the fastest connectivity have an advantage, some Regent Park parents say.

They said they'd like to be allowed to register for classes in Regent Park a day before parents from other neighbourhoods.

Spaces at a premium

Sureya Ibrahim said she lined up at 4 a.m. a few years ago, hoping to sign up her three kids for swimming lessons in Regent Park.

By the time her turn came, at 7 a.m., all the spots were filled, she said.

"It was horrible. The people [in the line] were frustrated and shouting by the time they left the pool," she said.

"I was frustrated and I left."

As well, some of the parents in Regent Park face language barriers that are hindering their ability to apply by telephone for spots in youth recreation programs.

Part of the problem is that Regent Park may have become a victim of its own success. 

BMWs and Audis parked outside

The revitalization program, which was aimed at transforming the community into a mixed-income neighbourhood, has seen the construction of state-of-the art facilities, including the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre, the Regent Park Community Centre, as well as new soccer fields and basketball courts.

Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents the Regent Park neighbourhood, wants the city to find ways to ensure low-income youngsters in Regent Park have better access to recreation programs. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

And in priority neighbourhoods like Regent Park, city-run programs are less expensive — sometimes even free.

Those new facilities are drawing people from all over the city — including more affluent communities nearby, Wong-Tam said.

"There are BMWS and Audis and Mercedes parked outside these facilities," she said, "and I assure you our local  [Toronto Community Housing] community is not driving these vehicles."

Parents and their children participate in one of the programs offered at the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre, which offers free and low-cost recreation programs for children. (CBC News)

Wong-Tam emphasized, however, that she's not suggesting outsiders be barred from using Regent Park's facilities. Instead, she wants the city to look at ways of expanding the capacity of the area's existing amenities to ensure there's room for everybody.

For instance, she wants the city to work with the Toronto District School Board to open up the neighbourhood's Lord Dufferin and Nelson Mandela public schools for after-school programs.

About the Author

Michael Smee

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michael Smee has worked in print, radio, TV and online journalism for many years.

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