City funds drug prevention programs

Toronto council cash for 42 community programs
By Kris Scheuer
(Originally written Aug. 14 for Town Crier.)

It’s about steering Riverdale youth and women away from drug abuse.
Programs offered by two area community centres will share in $830,000 approved by the city on Aug. 5 for 42 projects aimed at drug-abuse prevention.
The South Riverdale Community Health Centre received almost $28,000 for its 52-week Counterfit Women’s Harm Reduction Project. The program will employ five people to do outreach, develop workshops and consult with various groups like police and Children’s Aid Services.
The Ralph Thornton Centre got nearly $18,000 for a 25-week program called A Photo Voice Project for Youth, which involves teens mentoring youngsters and building their leadership skills.
Winnie Lee, program director at the Ralph Thornton Centre on Queen St. East, says the project includes workshops on drug-abuse prevention.
“We aim to build up (participants’) self-confidence and problem-solving skills that are conducive to leading a drug-free life,” she says.Between October and May, 15 teens from neighbourhood high schools will work with newcomers in grades 7 and 8 on a photo project. An exhibit will follow in the spring.
The focus, Lee says, could be the kids documenting how they feel about their community. Another possibility may be teens expressing themselves through photos while working with women in a local shelter.
The project will also feature workshops for young people on topics of their choice, such as teen pregnancy or youth homelessness.
Toronto Public Health can’t be everything to all people, says Barbara Macpherson, the agency’s acting manager of urban issues. So a goal of the city is to have these organizations deliver positive messages in gender-, culture- and age-appropriate ways to the community.
And the messages go beyond “drugs are bad”.
“If we just tell youth, ‘Say no to drugs’, it has not proven to be at all effective and in some cases has had the opposite effect,” Macpherson says.
The 42 projects will include information about the dangers of illegal drugs. Though similar messages are reinforced in schools, these projects add another weapon to the fight to keep members of society, specifically youth, drug free.
“We want youth to increase engagement in the community, family and church as that increases the chances youth will resist drugs,” Macpherson says. “(It’s) so they will be less likely to be swayed by other groups using drugs.”
From her point of view, this is a good use of taxpayers’ money.
“It’s really an opportunity for communities to invest in their own communities,” Macpherson says. “It gives them some of their tax dollars back.”
This approach doesn’t sit well with all councillors. Etobicoke councillor Rob Ford, who is always looking for ways to reduce council spending, argued there were better ways to spend city funds.
Willowdale councillor and board of health committee chair John Filion said Ford should broaden his perspective.
“Rob Ford always says we should spend money on fixing potholes,” Filion told the Town Crier. “We need to do both. We need to fix potholes but saving human lives is equally if not more important.
“There’s a huge cost to society for people committing crimes to support their (drug) habits,” he says. “We are always interested in prevention.”

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