On the way home from school, there are a few things that can hold up a teenager in Regent Park. It could be an after-school tutoring session, commotion about an arrest at the townhouses, or, as is the case one evening this week, police canvassing the social-housing project.
This is a community long plagued as much by a bad reputation as by drugs and gang violence. Even after the area’s extensive, expensive, much ballyhooed revitalization, youth here must face the possibility that members of the community are committing crimes against their own. Theirs is a reality far removed from that of most Canadian teens – one shared only by their counterparts in neighbourhoods such as Rexdale or Jane and Finch. Tyson Bailey, a 15-year-old who was shot at a highrise at Dundas and River and died in hospital in January, was just one of several young victims of gun violence in the GTA this year.
Mustafa Ahmed, 16, Ashley Fraser, 17, and Trevlyn Kennedy, 19, were at an anti-drug leadership meeting at Dixon Hall Youth Centre this past Thursday(the same day police publicly floated the theory they believe Tyson’s killer may have hidden in a Regent Park building after the shooting – maybe even his own apartment). Dixon Hall, located at the bottom of a drab highrise near River and Shuter, serves as a program space and drop-in centre. Although Mustafa and Trevlyn recently moved out of the area as part of a relocation project tied to Regent Park’s revitalization, they’re in the neighbourhood daily, drawn by old friends and outreach workers who have become surrogate parents. Their conversation offers a look into the challenges of growing up in one of Canada’s most troubled downtown neighbourhoods – an area that has come to symbolize the potentials and pitfalls of ambitious urban redevelopment.
How Regent Park has become less safe in their lifetime
Ashley: When I was growing up, I lived at 65 Belshaw and it was a big sense of family. All the older people who were born and raised here from back in the days, they all came together eventually, put all their beefs aside. It was an amazing part of my life growing up with them and knowing I was safe and knowing they had my best interests [at heart]. But now, this is not like what I remembered it to be. I think it happened when two people who I thought were my family – my deep family – passed away a couple of years ago. After that it was like we were having a gun war then, we’re having a gun war now. It’s like a puzzle. Once you don’t have that piece, there’s nothing there...it’s like, I’m finished (she wipes away tears as the talks). There’s too much puzzle [pieces] gone now.
Trevlyn: I think the revitalization was what threw it off for me because it becomes open and – I don’t want to put it in a way where outsiders weren’t allowed to come in – but you could just tell the outsiders or not [before]; you could tell if there was a threat or something. I felt more secure when the revitilization was not happening: everywhere was lit, I wasn’t afraid to walk through certain paths. Now with the revitalization, it’s dark. There’s certain paths that are locked off. It became an unfamiliar ground to work around.
The way crime in Regent Park is viewed by the rest of the city
Mustafa: A shooting’s happening here, someone is being killed over there. They [the media] stop coming. It’s almost like these people that are dying are not human any more. It’s so recurring and so redundant that they don’t want to come to report this. Unless it’s after Tyson died. [Wednesday] there was a shooting and they just blew it out of proportion … because it was close to the new residents. They want to make sure the new residents are safe.
Trevlyn: If you’re known to police and you die, the world doesn’t care. But as soon as you see sweet [kids]: “Why are the good kids dying?” Then it becomes, “Oh, shoot, this should be something we look into.” But why should that be the case? Why should you be dehumanized when you run into trouble with the police?