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Collaboration, better support for youth key to curbing gun violence in Jane-Finch area: roundtable

Collaboration and better supporting at-risk and vulnerable youth are key to curbing gun violence in Toronto’s Jane-Finch neighbourhood, say those who attended a community roundtable on Wednesday.

The two-hour meeting brought together politicians, police, city officials, and community leaders.

It comes after two people were shot in less than 24 hours last month, one fatally, while waiting at a bus stop near Jane Street and Driftwood Avenue.

This recent spate of gun violence has shaken the community and made those who live there feel unsafe, said local Coun. Anthony Peruzza, who organized Wednesday’s gathering at Driftwood Community Centre, where police set up a 24/7 command post following the gun violence.

“People have a right to feel safe in their neighborhood. People have a right to feel safe in their community,” the Humber River—Black Creek rep said following the discussion.

“It’s in that spirit that we brought together all of the relevant municipal departments, community leaders in having a frank conversation about what we all can do collectively, do better, and do more of in order to keep people here safe and make them feel safer as well.”

Peruzza said those in attendance discussed both immediate and longer-term ways to take action, including how to better share information, which he said would help people in the area better understand what resources and programs are available for them and how to better connect with them.

He said that some of the shorter-term things that can be done include enhancing lighting in and around Driftwood Community Centre, Toronto Community Housing buildings, and on the streets as well as a more visible police presence.

Peruzza said the need for more safe spaces in the neighbourhood for young people came up a number of times, adding a request for the approval of a new community hub in the Shoreham area has been put in.

In the longer term, he said it’s about connecting with at-risk young people earlier and giving them opportunities and tools to make better life choices and create better pathways.

“We’re establishing a working group to continue that conversation and maybe find a way to tailor a program that is more, more active and has more success,” the Ward 7 councillor said.

“So the resolve here today is to set up that system, set up that process where there’s a better exchange of information flow, and we can sit down with community leaders and better design outreach programs that connect better with more youth, more young people in the area and hard to reach young people in the neighbourhood.”

Driftwood Community Centre

Byron Gray grew up in the area and said everyone in the community wants to do more to better support all young people.

“They are the victims in a lot of this, at most points, and (organizations are) looking for better ways to collaborate together really to find the resources needed to team up and really come to solutions for community,” said Gray, who works with York University as the manager for the TD Community Engagement Center.

“We all need to play a part in the solution and we’re talking from the grassroots level all the way up to our federal government, and we’re seeing that this room today was filled with different levels of our community. That’s the type of collaboration that we need to come to the solution.”

Gray said young people in Jane-Finch deserve to be in environments that are suitable for their positive development.

“I think our responsibility is to really be there for them to listen and to have their voices represented in all the policies that we’re making, in terms of creating solutions for them,” he said.

Andrea Tabnor of the Jane and Finch Unity Organization said she felt that “voices were heard” at today’s roundtable and is confident that the community coming together to support local youth will help address local gun violence issues.

“We are going to make sure that each and every one of us come together as a collateral body and do what’s right for the Jane-Finch community,” she said, adding the best way to connect with youth at-risk in the community is through familiar, trusted faces like herself.

Tabnor said she’s a community leader who “walks the walk” and is vowing to “get to the root of the situation.”

Supt. Andy Singh of 31 Division agreed.

“The destination is the journey here. We just constantly strive to be better,” he said.

“We’re always trying to address the needs of the community and in a lot of cases, it’s bringing in partner agencies, stakeholder from the community, because policing is not what they’re looking for.”

Singh said the police may play a role as the “front-end response” when gun violence occurs in a community, but “sustainable solutions come from bringing in organizations that can provide those solutions that the community needs.”