Thorncliff Park Community Crowded, Stressed

Thorncliffe Park community crowded, stressed

Ethnic tensions rise as housing, youth, mental health programs fail to keep up with neighbourhood's growth, U of T study finds

Nicholas Keung, Immigration Reporter
Published On Mon Jan 11 2010

Severe overcrowding and poverty is heightening stress and ethnic tensions in Canada's most populated immigrant neighbourhood, says a study of the Thorncliffe Park community released Monday.

The University of Toronto study of changes in the Toronto neighbourhood between 2001 and 2006 found:

New housing has not kept pace with the growing population, forcing more families to double up in apartments. Since 2001, 1,268 residents moved into Thorncliffe, yet only 20 housing units were added.

The median household income has dropped, from $40,157 in 2001 to $38,456 in 2006, and is 40 per cent below the $64,128 median for the city.

An influx of Afghans into the predominantly Indian and Pakistani community has seen regional tensions carried over into Canada. Meanwhile, only one part-time mental health worker serves residents, many who have fled violent conflicts.

More than 30,000 residents mostly newcomers are crowded into 34 highrise and lowrise apartments in a 2.2-square kilometre concrete jungle behind Don Mills Rd. and Don Valley Parkway. Frontline workers are worried the population is outpacing programs and services, hindering their ability to quickly integrate.

“Thorncliffe Park will continue to attract high volumes of newcomers, relative to most neighbourhoods across Greater Toronto. Settlement services, therefore, should remain a high priority,” says the report. The study found each household has an average 1.4 bedrooms compared to 2.7 across the city, but twice as many sleeping in a bedroom as in an average Toronto home. Half live below Statistics Canada's low-income cut-off, three times the rate for Toronto.

Tauqir Uddin, who arrived from Pakistan five years ago, said overcrowding and unemployment are the biggest concerns for the community, where 63 per cent of adults have post-secondary education (twice the city's average), yet only 57 per cent of adults in Thorncliffe fully participate in the workforce.

Uddin, a marketing manager, worked in warehouses here, went back to school, then landed a job as a lab technician in 2007. He was laid off in March and is now unemployed. His family of four relies on his wife Shahina's $28,000-a-year salary working at a bank.

“We have a lot of highly educated people here looking for jobs. We need more job programs,” said Uddin.

He added their two-bedroom apartment is too small for the couple, their daughter, Shifa, 16, and son, Owais, 14.

The study also found a lack of youth programs, yet one quarter of Thorncliffe's population is under 14. Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office opened the community's only youth centre three years ago, but young people here need more “structured and quality programs,” said Marijana Cuvalo, the agency's youth service coordinator.

“They just need some attention,” said Cuvalo, who has a $200,000 programming budget and three full-time staff.

Study author Tony Boston, a U of T social work field instructor, said social agencies must stay in tune with the neighbourhood's “constantly shifting landscape.”

“This is not a stagnant ghettoized community. People do move on to the suburbs once they establish themselves,” he said.

“What we need to do is to look at ways to better support them …”