Commentary: TheStar Freeze on Toronto’s ‘Welcome Policy’ means low-income families missing out

I read this article this morning in the Toronto Star: TheStar Freeze on Toronto’s ‘Welcome Policy’ means low-income families missing out.

They say that they don’t have enough money to support the Welcome Policy that was introduced in the 1990’s. I remember when fees were introduced and it was a mess. I worked for the City of Toronto in the Parks and Recreation Department. There was never an issue whether or not someone in this city made enough money, they had access to recreation. I’m sure the justification of this is to recoupterate some of the costs of running the programs. Now, I don’t know the numbers, but just humour me for a moment.

When the City decides to make people start paying for the services in recreation, it’s not just that simple. You have to put into place payment systems, train the staff into using them and the time involved with dealing with the payments is taken away from the time they use actually providing the service. Alternatively, they are paid more time to take the money so that the net time for the program is not affected.

Then you have to take into effect the drop in attendance. The original estimates were that there would be about an average of a 30% drop across the board. Boy were they wrong. At the centre I worked at, they had a drop of 67%. The centre wasn’t making nearly enough to cover even their staffing costs. There were a couple of reasons for the drop, from what I know:

  • They couldn’t afford it or began to budget what they could attend; and
  • People looked at alternatives to paying the Recreation Centre to privately operated services, such as art classes and family gyms based on not only cost, but on quality of service.

People didn’t enroll in classes, less staff is needed, so many of us lost hours or had so few that we had to leave and find other work. Many people had spent two years in the Recreation Program at Centennial which was designed to be the recruiting ground for working as a Recreationist in the City of Toronto. When the fees came in, they all went scrambling looking for other work. Those that did get taken into the City, ended up becoming sales people to the public for permits selling the insurance packages and pushing paper, rather than doing what they were trained to do: programming and running recreation.

So what you’re left with is a very expensive payment system, a barebones recreation program, a lot of qualified people that went to do something else and a very large population, the most of which cannot afford the system. Those that can afford it, most likely go to a private gym anyway.