East York families in line and out of luck

Rod Malos was number 41 in line when his wife called to tell him to come home. While he waited his turn, she’d successfully enrolled their children in summer swimming and soccer programs online.

On his way out of the East York Community Centre, moments later, Malos handed his ticket to a man who had just arrived at the end of the line. By the time number 41 was called, less than an hour after registration had begun, however, the man who received Malos’s ticket was out of luck.

On March 9, dozens of people lined up early at the community centre, waiting to register their children for spring and summer recreational programs in East York.

Though families can register online and over the phone, many residents camped outside of the community centre believed they had a better chance of getting a spot in person. Andrew McIntosh, who arrived at 4 a.m. stood ninth in line.

“The first year we tried online and by phone concurrently and didn’t get anything,” he said. “Everything we wanted was already booked, and so the next time around I got in line.”

The first man in line, Noor Azizi, camped out in front of the building for 10 hours before the centre opened at 7 a.m., in order to secure a volunteer placement for his daughter.

“I came here at 9 p.m. last night,” Azizi said. “Yesterday my daughter came home and said: ‘Daddy, I have to register for this (volunteer program).’ So I went home, ate and came here. I slept for a couple of hours here in front of the door; my sleeping bag is in the car. … Now I have to get to work.”

The in-person registration system, now nearly 20 years old, processes roughly 600,000 registrations annually, for 80,000 programs and classes.

According to a statement made by Mayor John Tory the same day as parents lined up in East York, an overhaul of the registration process is long overdue and the days of grappling with crashing websites, phone traffic and long lines are numbered.

“Our recreational programs are vital to our city’s health,” Tory said, “but the technology used to register for these programs has not kept up with the times. … Our goal is to modernize this process so that this important programming can be offered smoothly and efficiently, and our staff resources and time are used effectively.”

Noor Azizi adds that the system apparently also needs to accommodate the increasing number of children in the region.

“With the way the population is growing, as well as the number of new immigrants arriving, we need more resources for people to have the chance to get into different programs,” Azizi said.

In the meantime, Muhammad Rizwan, who’d received Malos’s ticket number 41 found little solace that morning. He’d hoped to enrol his sons in swimming lessons over the summer. The day before, he waited in line at a pool in Leaside, but only managed to register the younger of his two sons.

Like Malos, Rizwan’s wife was trying to get through to the city online and over the phone while he waited in line, but was forced to call it quits in order to get their kids ready for school.

“Online registration needs to be improved,” Rizwan said. “Having to come here, and wait in line only to find that the program is full – it’s frustrating, especially when there’s only one class for my son’s age group. … But I realize the city is doing its best, and for that reason I cannot complain.”

The mayor promised improvements to the system by fall, and a new system by the end of 2017.