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article imageOntario NDP leader Andrea Horwath at Somali community event Special

By Farid Abdulhamid     Mar 11, 2011 in Politics
Toronto - According to Somali-Canadian demographers, Ontario is home to over 100,000 Somalis with the Greater Toronto Area alone accounting for 70,000 Somali-Canadian residents.
In a well attended community round table held on March 3rd at Toronto’s Eagle Manor located at 1901 Weston Road, members of the Somali community thronged the meeting hall to hear Ontario NDP leader, Andrea Horwath speak and engaged in group sessions that set forth their vision for tackling such critical issues as housing, employment, youth violence and education.
Stating that she came to hear from the community rather than do the talking, Andrea Horwath noted people in the community are taking action on issues affecting them and would like to see important changes take place but lamented community efforts have been hampered by lack of response from government circles.
“The community wants to take action but government supports are not there. It is not acceptable that there are no opportunities for young Somali-Canadians because infrastructure available does not meet the needs of the Somali community. I hear this level of frustration when people are willing to make change but can’t get help,” Said Andrea Horwath, adding that the NDP is committed to help solve problems facing the Somali community in Ontario.
“People in the community have solutions but response is not coming from the Provincial government” Said Horwath who pledged to work with Paul Ferreira, the NDP’s York South-Weston candidate for the upcoming Provincial elections to push for a real change and bring attention to concerns that have been ignored for some time. The largely immigrant and working class riding where the community round table took place, is home to a large number of Somali-Canadians who analysts say face high poverty levels and rising unemployment.
Faisal Hassan, the NDP's York South-Weston Riding Association President, a Somali-Canadian, underscored the significance of the forum which allows leaders to come and listen to community concerns with view of working collaboratively with stakeholders to tackle critical issues affecting the community at large by employing effective implementation plans.
Muse Kulow, the Somali-Canadian publisher of Immigrant Post observed that in the land of milk and honey (Canada) people in his community are still struggling to adapt to their new home, saying that Somali families never received appropriate settlement services.
Ferreira, an immigrant who arrived in Canada at a young age, recounted how members of his Portuguese community strove hard to overcome similar barriers faced by Somali-Canadians.
“The community we live in is not reflected in our institutions. People doing excellent work need full support of the NDP and the government. Institutions have to change and the only way to go forward is to combat racism head on” said Ferreira who noted the Somali community has a lot of role models and should stay engaged to bring positive change.
For a community that has traditionally looked to the NDP for solutions at policy level, forum participants called for a return to the NDP-era job creation programs such as Jobs Ontario and the Employment Equity legislation under the previous Ontario NDP government that were axed by the Mike Harris Conservatives. Both Andrea Horwath and Paul Ferreira pledged they will fight to bring back Employment Equity legislation and job creation programs.
Khadijah Salal, a York University graduate and a political analyst with Ogaal Radio, 88.9FM expressed her concerns over the status of Post-Secondary education in Ontario.
“Post-secondary education is being prized beyond the reach of Somali and other immigrant students. Mounting student debt loads means university graduates like me are still struggling to re-pay these loans.” Said Khadijah.
Her sister, Iman Salal, a current York student enrolled in the International Relations program concurs with Khadijah.
“Even second generation university students face similar challenges”. Said Iman, adding that “It is imperative grant programs to finance post-secondary education be put in place to help mitigate the effects of sky rocketing tuition fees”. In the interim, Somali university students are demanding tuition freeze.
A participant who declined to be named said the community and policy makers should move beyond “talk issues” and place “more emphasis on concrete steps to be taken by building on available resources since the community is thriving with talent and energy and ready to contribute to its own development”.
On youth issues, Abdifatah Warsame, a prominent youth leader and organizer said urgent action needs to be taken to address the staggering 37.7% high drop out rates among Somali high school kids.
“Parents should be equipped with resources they so desperately need to support their kids who are falling through the cracks” Said Abdifatah. He called upon the community and school system to work hand in hand to address gaps between poor communities, schools and educators.
Deeply involved in the provision of after school and sports/recreation programs intended to help high school kids make a successful transition to post-secondary education, Abdifatah pointed to another barrier to education:
“Prospective post-secondary students are not only faced with rising tuition but also the moral dilemma of tapping into students loans that do not meet the requirements of students from a predominantly Muslim community where interest-based loans are forbidden”.
‘We would like to see a return to a grants-based education system, which would eliminate financial barriers and improve access to post-secondary education.” Said Abdifatah.
Access to safe, affordable housing is a major problem in the community. It was noted that a Somali lady has been on the waiting list for rent-geared-to-income housing since 1996. Favouristm, bribery and other malpractices at the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), Canada’s largest public housing landlord, mean that community applicants are often overlooked and in some cases, pushed down the list by unscrupulous staffers who accommodate very recent applicants whose files are unfairly expedited at the expense of neglected ones.
For Somali tenants already housed in TCHC buildings, they face security issues and live in deplorable conditions where deteriorating units go unrepaired. Families find it very difficult to raise children in an environment where public safety is lacking in an increasingly ghettoized sub-standard housing.
On employment, it was revealed that qualified community members face barriers to employment such as systemic racism. Even Canadian-born, young Somali University and college graduates are finding it difficult to secure decent jobs in a labour market rife with nepotism and cronyism.
Barriers to employment include the so-called “Canadian Experience” and lack of good paying jobs in a hidden job market where the majority of available positions are not advertised to the public. Job networking is another barrier as job hunters in the community cannot afford expensive networking conferences and workshops.
There are simply no networking opportunities in a closed job market that favours the well-connected.
Representatives of Somali seniors informed the forum that they constitute one of the most neglected segments of the community whose problems include isolation, lack of services, leisure space and housing. But they have taken matters in their hands having formed their own organization in the Toronto area, which advocates for services and programs and better resources for seniors.
Overall, community members reiterated the call for re-enactment of the Employment Equity legislation at provincial level, revival of Jobs Ontario Program, affordable child care, second career programs and incentives for employers that hire Somali-Canadians. Access to quality affordable housing, better educational prospects and services for women and seniors are equally important. It was felt that the community must stay engaged and working together is a collective responsibility that would bring positive change.
More about Somali Canadians, Ontario, Jobs, Housing, youth violence
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