It wasn’t easy for Toronto’s Mayor David Miller to get from his tiny apartment in Ottawa to a snazzy office in City Hall. In fact, a hard childhood required Miller to get “his hustle on.”
“People look at me and see a big, tall, blond guy who is the mayor. But it wasn’t always that way,” Miller told the youth attending a Toronto Community Housing economic forum at the University of Toronto Conference Centre.
“My mom brought me here from England on her own, she raised me herself, and made sure I got a good education.”
The mayor kicked off a two-day forum called “Get Your Hustle On,” starting Oct. 11. The event was a chance for youth ages 16-29 from Toronto Community Housing (THC) neighbourhoods to network with employers and community agencies.
“One thing we find is that young people don’t know the options that are open to them,” said Kemi Jacobs, TCH’s manager of children and youth services. “So they think that they can just get a job or start a business, without realizing the variety of jobs open to them.”
The forum also included workshops, a trade show and internship opportunities in various trades, including carpentry. However, the spotlight was on speakers and performers to inspire youth to find their passion.
Youth inspire youth
Cheryl Perera, 21, spoke of her efforts to help children who are caught in the global sex trade.
In 2001 during a visit to Sri Lanka, Perera, then just 18, went undercover as a 15-year-old child prostitute with the help of the Sri Lankan government.
“I was reading about them [Sri Lankan children] in school, but I wanted to see their faces and ask them what young people in Canada can do to help,” Perera said. “I went undercover to understand the reality of what they faced.”
Since then, Perera is founder and president of One Child, a non-profit organization that fights to eliminate sexual exploitation of children around the world. [
Perera also convinced Air Canada and its affiliate airlines to show an in-flight video about sex tourism and its criminal penalties.
“So when you get up tomorrow, instead of hitting your alarm clock, I want you to hit your opportunity button,” said Perera in a speech.
Cycle of community housing
But some youth, who have lived in community housing all their lives, say it’s hard to have such an optimistic approach to life.
Melissa McLetchin, 23, says people who live in ßΩcommunity housing pass their own discouragement on to their children, creating another generation dependent on THC’s services.
Currently, TCH houses over 164, 000 tenants in Toronto.
Jacobs says this cycle creates long waiting lists for housing in the city. But she also says living in subsidized or market rent housing is a choice.
“Events like this also gives people a choice to get the tools they need own succeed in life and maybe even own their own homes,” Jacobs said.
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Toronto Community Housing