This is not Aretha McCarthy’s first panel discussion.
The constant stream of government meetings to discuss gun violence but, in her opinion, fail to act has left the Toronto youth worker and her colleagues fed up.
“Why don’t they listen to us?” she said. “You’re saying we’re the voices, but you’re still not listening to us.”
When the Toronto Youth Cabinet, the council’s official youth advisory body, approached the Star about gun violence, it was decided that high school students, youth workers and young entrepreneurs would meet with a reporter to discuss the issues. urgent matters affecting their lives in the midst of ongoing armed violence.
Away from politicians who have refused to provide sustainable funding for their organizations’ frontline work with the city’s most vulnerable youth, they detailed mental health challenges, violence in schools, and problems with policing and the House. These are often not top government priorities, where debate and funding have focused on gun control and increased police resources.
Here is what experts had to say in their own experiences and communities:
While much of the focus in combating gun violence has been on gun access, border laws and other regulations, those the Star spoke with said more emphasis is needed on the mental health of children and youth. .
“We take care of mental health because we know how serious that is when it comes to our youth,” said McCarthy, who founded DevelopME Youth, a nonprofit organization to empower black youth. Politicians’ visits to the community, without follow-up funding for advice and programming, often feel empty.
“The fact that you come for the photo shoot will not help me to see one of my friends walk by.”
Gloria “Glowz” O’koye, a youth and crisis support worker, said the pandemic has also complicated the ability of young people who have lost someone to violence to gain proper closure, often by attending memorial services. virtually.
It is people like O’koye who are approached by young people in the middle of the night.
Although there is a push to make crisis teams more available in the city, those resources are not available at all hours, he noted.
“Around 3 or 4 (am), we call it hell time,” he said of young people struggling with their mental health in the middle of the night and needing someone to talk to. “We are seeing the consequences.”
The ongoing effect of a shooting on a community without proper intervention can create a cycle of negative outcomes, workers said.
“Many young people are hopeless,” said Ibrahim Yusuf, co-founder of Hidaayah House, an organization that offers crisis support, mental health resources, events and more. “They feel like they’re not going to get anywhere, which is one of the main reasons for the violence that you see.”
The 2008 Ontario Government Commissioned Youth Violence Roots Review report noted that mental health is one of the direct roots of immediate risk factors for violence, “particularly alienation and a lack of belonging. ”.
Nasra Falayy recalls that after a shooting at his high school earlier this year, there were outside agencies offering only notebooks and pens to students in the cafeteria as part of the immediate response. After a couple of days, it seemed like there wasn’t much else in the way of support at David and Mary Thomson CI.
“They’ve never really talked about it in the ads,” said his friend and classmate Kristian Tofilovski.
“I think they just think that if we forget about it, focus on our tasks and move on from it, then that will be it,” he said. “We have a memorial, but. . . I think early next year, they might remove it. . . like they piled all the flowers and the posters in a corner”.
The students discussed wanting to make a more permanent memorial, perhaps producing a documentary with their school’s film class that would feature stories about the life of 18-year-old Jahiem Robinson.
Although the school is running a unique summer program intended to bring the wider community together, it is geared towards incoming students.
And while school shootings are incredibly rare, they affect the school community as a whole.
Logging into the virtual class after the shooting, Falahy said a teacher who had been close to Robinson was sobbing on screen.
Another teacher was a hall monitor during the incident and had given Robinson first aid, Falahy said. Later, the two students noticed that he did not return to school. They don’t know what happened to him.
“I feel like we teens specifically have become very desensitized to violence in our community because we’ve seen it in the news for so long,” Tofilovski said.
He and Falahy discussed gun violence on an episode of their podcast, Z-keywhere they talk about American politics, gun control, and the shooting at their own school.
Tofilovski was in the main hall of the school when he heard a shot. He saw people running towards him and said he continues to have dreams about gun violence. Loud noises at school make him panic.
Still, they know that others have suffered more: people injured or who witnessed the death of a friend in front of them. And they are aware of the fact that not enough is being done about it.
“Our generation in general, they either don’t listen to us or we don’t show up enough because clearly the government, they don’t really care that much,” Falahy said. on the podcast. “I’ve seen more people our age, like Gen Z people, come out and talk about gun violence on social media, protesting about it. . . that I’ve seen government people step up and do something.”
Abdifatah Hussein, co-founder of Hidaayah House, compared the relationship with the police to a relative who only shows up at weddings and funerals.
“Like, you’ve shown your face. ‘Hey, I’ll make sure I’m there so I can say I’m part of the family.’ But, like, how come you’re not talking to me regularly?
He said there is a “lack of trust” when the community doesn’t know about the officers working in their neighborhoods.
“I know they are not going to be there before the crime happens,” he said of the role of the police compared to the preventative work he and others do.
“This proactive approach that we’re all talking about has never been a more important part of the puzzle.”
He said that even when the police and other government groups ask for his opinion on how to tackle gun violence, it seems that his experience and opinions are ignored.
“I almost feel like it’s like our voicemails are being erased.”
Lesley Oduro, founder of the Central Etobicoke Youth Agency, said living in public housing or low-income neighborhoods often carries a stigma, especially when young people apply for jobs.
Several workers spoke about young people changing or omitting their address on resumes hoping not to be overlooked.
A finite amount of assistance such as TCHC’s YouthWorx program offers labor jobs, but only during the summer.
Yusuf said neighborhoods with low-income housing also seem to get a raw deal when it comes to Another resources.
“Public schools in our area seem to be underfunded,” and less appealing teachers and curricula, he said, noting that his family sent him to an academy for a special program that was two buses away.
Those problems are only compounded when the member of an income-based rent household is no longer a student, said Nafisa Mohamed, co-founder of NOOR.
“It becomes more difficult for parents to be able to pay the rent because now they have to contribute the income of the 18-year-old in the household.”
And without access to better-paying jobs and career guidance, young people are hard-pressed to make a meaningful contribution to their household or improve their own futures.