Using the city services you pay for

Many city services are free or subsidized by taxpayers’ dollars
Why not use the programs you pay to provide
By Kris Scheuer
(Column originally published March 19 for Town Crier.)

With the city poised to increase taxes and user fees in these tough economic times, why not take advantage of all the free and subsidized public programs you already pay for.
You can do more than borrow books and movies for free at Toronto’s 99 library branches.
There are free adult literacy programs at nine branches including the Don Mills Library where tutors will work one on one with people over 16 to improve basic reading, math and writing. Call 416-395-5555 for more info. 
Computer literacy is also important when so much information is accessible via the Internet these days. The Toronto Reference Library, just north of Yonge and Bloor Sts., is one of 14 locations that offer individual tutorials. Call 416-393-7209 for other locations.Students in grades 7 through 12 can get free tutoring with the Homework Help for Teens program at half a dozen locations including the Sanderson branch on Bathurst St. Call 416-393-7653 for branches. 
Recreation programs in community centres can also be another source of free fun. In most cases, the city charges user fees for these programs and is proposing a 3.7 percent increase for 2009.
However, there are several options to access swimming, dance or hockey at no charge.
The Hockey in the Neighbourhood program provides kids aged 7–13 who have never played hockey and aren’t in an organized league. The hour-long sessions include equipment the kids can use and are held at eight indoor and outdoor rinks including the Flemingdon Community Centre Arena. Call 416-395-6037 for details.
There is also a Welcome Policy where all recreation fees are waived for those who can’t afford it. Last year almost 32,000 made use of this program. Call the Welcome Policy hotline 338-2000 for details. 
Toronto also has 21 priority centres including the Lawrence Heights Community Centre where all recreation programs are free for everyone,call 416-392-1111 to inquire about other locations. 
The city is enhancing three programs this year. There’s the Emergency Rental Deposit Loan Program, which provides interest-free loans for last month’s rent for people who have to move to more affordable housing. 
Then there’s the Toronto Rent Bank for low-income people wanting to stay in their homes during difficult financial times. With money from the municipal and provincial governments, the city expects to hand out 1,300 interest-free loans. And there’s a Social Housing In-situ Allowance to aid tenants in social housing who pay market rent (not all public housing is subsidized) stay in their apartments if they lose income. 
Call Access Toronto at 416-338-0338 and for the Shelter, Support and Housing department or go to www.toronto.ca/housing.
As well, there is help for people looking for jobs through an Employment Resource Centre at Metro Hall.
Low-income people, seniors and people with disabilities can qualify for rebates on water and property tax bills starting in May, once the city approves the 2009 budget. 
This year the city will expand the Homemakers and Nurses Services Program to help around 2,500 people get help around the house when faced with a chronic illness or financial problems. 
Seniors looking for an affordable lunch under $5 can drop into the Cafeteria Service in longterm care homes. 
There is also free dental service for eligible children, highschool students and seniors. Contact Toronto Public Health at416-392-0907.
And for people who don’t have enough money to cover the costs of funerals for loved ones, call 416-392-1666 to see how the city can help. 
A great resource for free programs, loans, grants and rebates is awebsite launched Feb. 9 at www.toronto.ca/torontohelps. Here you will find dozens of city services for residents and businesses.


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