HOW WE TACKLE THE ISSUES: THE UNITED WAY APPROACH

HOW WE TACKLE THE ISSUES:

THE UNITED WAY

APPROACH

The biggest and most stubborn issues we are up against are deeply connected. Not surprisingly, so are the solutions. The simple truth is that we cannot address the affordable housing crisis without tackling income insecurity, employment precarity, mental health and substance use. We cannot deal with food insecurity without facing the fact that social assistance rates do not even enable subsistence in our region, especially at a time when inflation is surging. And we cannot build a new economy without confronting the racism and discrimination that fuels the deep opportunity gaps across the GTA.

That is why United Way brings everything in our toolbox together to take on those issues. To meet and mitigate the challenges far too many are experiencing right now. And to blaze a trail forward, one that moves us to the next level and closer to the promise of a strong and equitable region with greater opportunities for everyone.

Here's what that looks like:

Housing icon Housing and Homelessness arrow pointing up icon

What's new:

A group of people holding shovels digging into the ground

Shovels are in the ground and new modular housing for more than 50 — seniors, Indigenous peoples and racialized people — is around the corner, literally, cementing an innovative approach to integrating health and community care. Beyond affordable housing, the Social Medicine Initiative in Toronto’s Parkdale will offer supportive housing for people dealing with poverty and homelessness, as well as health issues and mental illness. A partnership with UHN (University Health Network) and the City of Toronto and part of the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative, this project will also draw on the expertise of United Way-funded West Neighbourhood House to offer wrap-around support and services — think food, transportation, employment, harm reduction and community engagement and crucially, dignity — for a population that has enjoyed little stability.

What we're building on:

Last year we invested $4.3 million in over 40 programs supporting those experiencing homelessness. Our Partnerships and Systems Initiatives Grants, for example, make possible an initiative that brings together the Region of York, local school boards and United Way-funded agencies like 360° Kids and Blue Door to double down on youth homelessness, focusing on timely support to shorten youth experience of homelessness and reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence.

A group of people holding signs that read 'Its cold out here'

A page spread from United Way Greater Toronto Vertical Legacy Report

Recommendations from our Vertical Legacy report were widely shared with almost 300 stakeholders across Peel, Toronto and York Region, including elected officials and public servants at all levels of government, community advocates, and peers in research, public policy and public affairs, generating opportunities for alignment and amplification. And it’s already driving change: In keeping with our call for regular and proactive inspections of apartment buildings, we issued a letter of support to the City of Mississauga Council for their new Apartment Building Standards program — now in development and set to launch this summer.


United Way implements and administers the federal Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy in York Region. A critical piece of work is the York Region Point-in-Time Count conducted in partnership with the Regional Municipality of York. Other highlights over the past year include: an open funding call that saw $1.8 million directed to five organizations for homelessness prevention, diversion and housing retention over the next three years; an additional $500,000 set aside for Indigenous-led programs; and $7 million in capital funding to create and sustain 50+ new permanent supportive housing and transitional housing units, as well as renovations at a women’s shelter to provide two fully accessible units for residents with physical disabilities.

The cover of United Way Greater Toronto I Count Report

What's next:

Come July, through our Community Program funding, United Way will be supporting eight new housing and homelessness programs for the first time, including:

Housing Logo Cecil Breaking Barriers

Cecil Community Centre’s Breaking Barriers, a peer-led street outreach initiative, which provides wrap-around support and referrals for people in downtown Toronto, including those living in encampments.

Housing Logo Cecil A group of people sitting around a table studying

Housing Support for Black and At-risk Youth through the Restoration and Empowerment for Social Transition Centre which connects participants to housing with vetted and trained host families in Peel, life skills workshops and social supports.

Housing Logo Cecil A group of people wearing masks looking at the camera

Through the Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World program, Inn from the Cold focuses on personal development and case management to increase long-term housing retention for clients in York Region.

Employment icon Inclusive employment and income security arrow pointing up icon

What's new:

Construction workers building a home

Leveraging emerging best practice and applying the success of our Career Navigator™ model to other age cohorts, we have refocused our employment programming to take a more demand-driven, employer-informed workforce development approach. This broadened strategy is outcomes centred, focused on good jobs and works with employers to create a good fit.

What we're building on:

A more than $6-million investment in over 65 inclusive employment programs that support people who face multiple barriers to employment — Indigenous peoples, racialized youth, newcomers and people who have disabilities — in increasing their skills and the likelihood of obtaining and retaining a job. Last year alone, that investment supported over 10,000 people. One successful example from that portfolio? Blue Door’s Construct — a construction and property services employment social enterprise — recruits, trains and employs participants with employment barriers, paving the way for skilled trades careers in this expanding industry. Last year Construct surpassed its sales revenue target by 70%, generating more than enough to invest in 70 trainees and employees, the majority of who will be linked to mainstream jobs.


United Way’s Career Navigator ™ program provides youth facing multiple barriers with access to interconnected education, training, job placement, soft skills and wrap-around support services. Through partnership with agencies and employers, the program is helping youth gain industry-recognized credentials needed for in-demand employment opportunities in growing economic sectors — opportunities like the new insurance pathway in collaboration with CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals piloted last year and already recruiting for a second cohort of trainees. The signature program’s success has continued throughout the pandemic with over 1,300 youth enrolled last year and 60% already transitioning to full-time jobs.

CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals

Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) have been a game changer, ensuring that with every major public infrastructure project, we are also strengthening community and creating opportunities for those at risk of being left behind. United Way helped to catalyze community benefits agreements in our region from the beginning, working with community, organized labour and government partners to design the blueprint for implementation, starting with the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. That plan has been used to replicate and scale community benefits in our region since. United Way has worked on five CBAs: for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, the Finch West LRT, Rexdale Casino Woodbine, West Park Healthcare Centre and the Hurontario LRT. And we continue to fund the Toronto Community Benefits Network and the Peel Community Benefits Network, which we co-chair with the Region of Peel. To date, these five CBAs have created employment for over 1,500 residents from equity-deserving groups and generated nearly $1 million in sales for employment social enterprises. More importantly, these projects are changing the meaning of 'building for the future.'


Two people sitting at a desk reviewing a form

Our close collaboration with Labour — extending back to the Labour Council’s role as founding partners of United Way more than 65 years ago — continues to animate and strengthen so much of our work. From Community Benefits Agreements to discrete projects — such as the partnership between United Way, Labour Community Services and other agencies in York Region to deepen equity in the sector — we’re committed to improving employment opportunities and conditions for working people.


Through our 2022 Ontario Budget Consultations submission, United Way Greater Toronto advocated for the provincial government to create fair and equitable employment opportunities and decent and secure work for Ontarians and to increase the province's social assistance rates to account for increased costs of living.

A group of people holding pumpkins

A woman working on a computer

The Toronto Workforce Funder Collaborative leverages the combined efforts of seven funders focused on workforce development. Formed in 2019 to catalyze systems change for equity-deserving jobseekers and workers, the Collaborative has issued two RFPs and funded four projects, including POV Third Street to improve opportunities for Black women in the film industry.

What's next:

When it comes to decent work, we’re walking the talk. While long paying our own staff a living wage, United Way has now worked with partners like Peel Poverty Reduction Strategy to become recognized as an Ontario Living Wage Employer at the Champion level. Modeling corporate responsibility in income security is another way we can push for socially just change — and something we plan to leverage by encouraging the contractors we work with most to also pay their employees a living wage.

A person walking through a grocery store holding onto a shopping cart
 

Reconciliation icon Reconciliation, equity and inclusion arrow pointing up icon

What's new:

In September, United Way published our Reconciliation and Equity Action Plan, a commitment to centering our work more deeply in reconciliation and equity — and sharing the targets to which we are holding ourselves accountable. Integral to advancing our mission, those targets include making significant progress towards becoming a more equitable organization, fundraiser and funder and supporting more equitable outcomes in our community. In the last year, with concerted effort, we have:

Attained 58% gender parity and 61% representation of under-represented groups — including Indigenous, racialized and 2SLGBTQ+ people and people living with disabilities — on our Board and Committees.

Directed more funding to agencies that serve and focus on Indigenous and equity-deserving groups, including Indigenous-led and Black-led organizations. That means in our recent Community Program Grants, 4% of funding is dedicated to Indigenous-led organizations, 6% to Black-led organizations and 24% of funded agencies are Indigenous or equity-led, focused and serving. Together, these are first steps towards reaching our greater ambitions of increasing support for these communities, also by ensuring that 90% of funds raised are unrestricted, and better able to meet evolving needs as identified by community.

58%

gender parity on our Board and Committees

61%

under-represented groups on our Board and Committees

24%

of funded agencies are Indigenous- or equity-led, focused and serving

90%

unrestricted funds to meet evolving needs

What we're building on:

A collage of different events that United Way hosts

Community Advisory Councils have been a vital connection to the Chinese, South Asian and Black communities we work with and serve, helping us to understand and respond to unique challenges. That important contribution continues. In addition to organizing the annual Black Leadership & Recognition Event, the Black Community Advisory Council has been a driving force behind the Black Youth School Success Initiative. Started in Peel four years ago to provide youth with wrap-around supports through their middle years, the program has reached 300 students and is now supporting 250 young people as a stand-alone initiative that has extended its mandate to post-high school support. Scotiabank’s commitment to youth is bringing this respected program to York Region and Toronto now, where it will support 300 youth in grades 6-8 in preparation for high school.

The Chinese Advisory Council has worked to shine a light on the issue of Anti-Asian hate and discrimination, hosting a series of workshops with both grassroots and mainstream organizations such as Peel Regional Police, ultimately engaging hundreds of participants — and being recognized for their efforts through a Continuous Care Award from Volunteer MBC. As well, it has collaborated with the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto and network agencies like Hong Fook Mental Health Association and Punjabi Community Health Services to form Stronger Together, a coalition to identify problems, connect people and formulate action plans to prevent hate and mitigate its impacts.


Reconciliation and Equity Organizational Infrastructure Grants are providing targeted support to Indigenous and equity-deserving groups including Black peoples, other racialized peoples, women, the 2SLGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities. This grant stream, kickstarted by the Barrett Building Opportunities Greater Toronto Fund, deepens our commitment and investment in the development of these organizations so essential to the communities they serve. In total, these 14 agencies received $600,000 in unrestricted funding to strengthen internal capacity, from financial sustainability and management to governance and strategy:

Anishnawbe Health Toronto


Mizwie Biik Aboriginal Employment & Training


The Indigenous Network


Afghan Women’s Organization


African Community Services of Peel


CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals


Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT)


Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA)


Delta Family Resource Centre


Embrave Agency to End Violence


Krasman Centre


Roots Community Services


Sandgate Women’s Shelter


Yellow Brick House


A group of people holding signs that read 'Refugees Welcome'

Hosted by United Way Greater Toronto, Peel Newcomer Strategy Group is the Local Immigration Partnership for Peel Region. Highlights of this body’s important work over the last year include: contributing to a participatory grant making pilot led by Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement; consultations on community-based funding and planning in the settlement sector, as well as co-leading with the Region of Peel a refugee resettlement support working group focused on new Afghan and Ukrainian arrivals.


At the invitation of Toronto Mayor John Tory, United Way, the City of Toronto and Lifeline Afghanistan announced a partnership in support of Afghans resettling in Toronto and the GTA, part of Canada’s commitment to welcome at least 40,000 Afghan refugees over two years. The Afghan Resettlement Fund has been a destination for donations while UWGT has established an advisory group made up of partners and members of the Afghan community to direct those funds to 16 community-based settlement agencies vital to this effort — providing housing and employment support, food, clothing and community connections.

Two women standing side by side and smiling at the camera

A group of people smiling and looking at the camera

Last year United Way and the University of Toronto’s School of Cities piloted a bold new leadership development initiative unique to the challenges and opportunities of a post-pandemic reimagining of our region. The Leading Social Justice Fellowship is back and building on a successful first year, this time pulling in the expertise of the Rotman School of Management and expanding to welcome 50+ participants, as well as offering on-going skills development for alumni. This new cohort of cross-sectoral teams, hailing from public, private and not-for-profit worlds, will bring a social justice mindset and dynamic approach to problem solving some of the toughest issues United Way is engaged on — from economic opportunity to supportive housing and our commitment to reconciliation and equity.

What's next:

The Indigenous Partnership Council will help steer us in meeting our responsibilities in accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and the expectations of the Indigenous peoples we serve across Peel, Toronto and York Region. Early meetings with Indigenous leaders, guided by John Beaucage, former Grand Council Chief of the First Nations of the Anishinabek Nation (Union of Ontario Indians) have focused on three areas of work on which to collaborate: identifying principles and actions across community investment, fundraising and research and advocacy. Working together, we're building trust through our words and actions.

Screenshot of online United Way hosted event webinar
 

Services icon Services and sector arrow pointing up icon

What's new:

A screenshot from an online United Way hosted webinar event

Cluster tables have emerged as a bright light from this crisis. An emergency measure created in the early days of the pandemic to solve problems in real time and streamline equitable allocation of donations and resources, these 17 central coordinating tables made up of local government and over 375 agencies have proven to be an invaluable lever for ground truth and basic services like food delivery, as well as vaccine roll-out. So, we’re not just keeping them; with your help we’re investing in them: supporting cluster-led projects, providing training opportunities for participants and looking at how this valuable tool can be sustained in the future, a vital resource in good times and bad.

What we're building on:

At the height of Omicron, United Way responded with the second of two emergency funds this year. The Supporting the Front-Line Fund directed $835,000 in urgent funding to critical in-person and in-home services, and reached 175 programs, providing food and gift cards, PPE and additional staff, harm reduction and mental health services. Grant recipient Pink Cars was able to keep up the good work facilitating COVID-19 vaccinations for seniors and also supported recent refugees from Ukraine through volunteer-run car service.

A person holding a sign thanking Pink Cars for helping them get vaccinated

A person wearing headphones working at a computer

An essential service that connects people in need to the non-emergency government and community services that can support them, 211 — now a nationwide service navigator — got its start right here in the GTA, founded by United Way. The free and confidential service, available in 150 languages, 24/7 and 365 days a year, has become recognized as a crucial data resource for social services, providing a window into emerging and unmet needs during the rapidly changing pandemic. Moving forward, those insights will be used to inform sector investment and response.


After two years of ongoing and dynamic response, our region’s social safety net reached a breaking point in early 2022. In addition to supporting the sector in getting the job done through rapid emergency granting, we also understood the importance of supporting the sector’s people, period. Enter Nonprofit Sector Week, initiated by Daisy Wai, MPP for Richmond Hill, and with the support of Raksha Bhayana of the Bhayana Family Foundation, the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) and UWGT. The first Ontario Non-Profit Sector Week of Appreciation took place February 14-20 and will continue to remind all of us of the transformative work of the sector every third week of February, in perpetuity.

Nonprofit Appreciation Week banner celebrating Ontarios Non Profits

Two sets of hands holding onto a bowl filled with cherry tomatoes

The General Mills Community Food System Grants program wound down, delivering a report on lessons learned before during and after the pandemic — and demonstrating that a strategy built on investment in local agencies and a focus on capacity building and partnership can advance food accessibility, equity and sustainability. Learnings have already been applied to United Way’s ongoing funding in food security with agencies Ecosource and The Mississauga Food Bank/Peel Food Action Council receiving 3-year Community Program Grants to continue their innovative work connecting resources and partners to expand and coordinate local solutions like community gardens — all for the benefit of residents.


Even amidst the urgency of Omicron and other waves of the pandemic, United Way has continued its vital systems-level work. The Partnership and Systems Initiatives Grants stream — $1 million earmarked for more than 20 projects — has focused on improving service delivery and coordination through the pandemic and beyond. In Peel, a collaboration with the City of Mississauga and Region of Peel is supporting hundreds of seniors and families through the Creditview Mills Community Wellness Hub, which integrates health and human services and provides a weekly activity calendar.

Two people standing across from each other stretching

What's next:

United Way Greater Toronto Virtual Program Transition report cover

Pivot became a buzz word during the pandemic. And with good reason. The virus and public health protocols necessitated many changes in how we all do things — in community service delivery too. United Way has harvested and documented some of the most effective innovations we’ve seen in a collection of agency and network case studies, highlighting how sector creativity during the pandemic is leading to greater impact in community. To ensure that their potential to advance systemic change and sector modernization reaches a wider audience, we’re presenting and sharing lessons learned and good practices — and supporting the sector to see them instituted more broadly.

 

Services icon Strong neighbourhoods arrow pointing up icon

What's new:

United Way Greater Toronto Social Capital Report cover

Understanding social capital and, crucially, who has how much, who doesn’t and how we can close the gap is critical to planning for an inclusive future. In July, United Way launched two reports: A Peel Region Social Capital Study and A York Region Social Capital Study — the first reports to measure social capital in Peel and York regions, assessing pre-pandemic baseline levels of trust in neighbours and institutions and access to services and community engagement opportunities. Undertaken with support from The Region of Peel, The Community Foundation of Mississauga, The Regional Municipality of York, York Regional Police, and Wellesley Institute, the reports were presented at the Future Cities Canada Summit, featured on national podcast On the Way Home and reached more than 150 elected representatives and government officials, as well as scores of research and public policy colleagues.

What we're building on:

Resident engagement has always been key to our work in neighbourhoods, where concentration of poverty and lack of critical infrastructure has reinforced structural barriers for many. Our Strong Neighbourhood Grants continue to support initiatives like the Our Strong Jane and Finch/Black Creek Fair Economies project which is connecting local residents to employment opportunities with one of the area’s largest institutions and employers — York University. Highlights include an economic roundtable convened by the group and a speaker series Growth Without Displacement which addresses accompanying challenges to development, such as housing affordability.

Two women looking at camera while holding a sign in support of affordable housing

Two people holding hands

FOCUS Toronto launched its sixth situation table, FOCUS York, in October, kicking off the first meeting with 25 partners. The new table means that FOCUS Toronto — the unique partnership between the City of Toronto, Toronto Police Services, United Way Greater Toronto and local agencies that works to keep individual situations from escalating into community crises — now covers almost all of the Greater Toronto Area. With 200 members meeting weekly, FOCUS intervened in over 900 cases in 2021 alone, helping people who are dealing with a wide variety of issues — from gun violence and human trafficking to substance use and mental illness to homelessness and cognitive disabilities — to access the support they need. Literally saving lives.


The Regent Park Social Impact Investment Fund launched in 2018 is a model of place-based investment. Focused on community building, local employment and economic development, safety and communication, the Fund brings resident-led solutions to life, in support of neighbouhood revitalization. The Community Volunteer Recruitment Project trusteed by Yonge Street Mission is just one of the wide range of initiatives that is building social cohesion and engagement.

A wide shot of Regent park in Toronto

What's next:

COllage of images of Bridletowne Neighbourhood Hub and Throncliffe Park Community Hub

After years of effort from multiple partners, including all levels of government, the Bridletowne Neighbourhood Hub is soon to be a reality for the people of Scarborough — a testimony to community, connection and collaboration. Long considered underserved by the social services sector, the project in the Steeles L'Amoreaux neighbourhood will hold a unique blend of services, including YMCA recreation facilities, Scarborough Health Network's dialysis program, Hong Fook Mental Health Association, Agincourt Community Services Association and other United Way-supported agencies. United Way is committing $3 million in capital funding to create community space for agencies to host programming. Underway next year, as well, is Thorncliffe Park Community Hub. While the space has played a vital role for residents throughout the pandemic, operating as both a food access centre and vaccination site, a fully integrated model of social and health services is imagined for the future, led by United Way-funded The Neighbourhood Organization (TNO) and other anchor partners such as the Flemingdon Health Centre and Michael Garron Hospital. Community space and access will be a cornerstone of the hub, and grassroots groups and residents have already been engaged in the hub’s design and development, which United Way is supporting through a $2-million investment.