For the best experience, please visit this webpage on a desktop computer.
Six ways we are working in neighbourhoods
Across our region, we are advancing our mission, work that has always had its roots deep in community, deep in the neighbourhoods in which we live. We are collaborating with residents, agencies, corporate, civic and government partners to leverage local assets, as well as current and future opportunities. Together, we’re taking aim at local challenges and developing system solutions that can move us all forward. And we’re using these tools for change—some familiar, some new—to buttress and build more inclusive neighbourhoods:
To read more about our initiatives, scroll down. And check out the map for highlights of where they are having impact:
Across Toronto, Peel and York Region, United Way Greater Toronto funds and partners with a balanced portfolio of poverty-fighting agencies. This ecosystem approach—always being refined to address our diverse region, populations and issues—is a thoughtful strategy that enables us to meet needs where they are greatest, respond to changes in our community and build lasting solutions to critical issues at the intersection of poverty, equity and geography.
Just renewed for five years, this investment in social service infrastructure and long-term capacity is a unique-to-United-Way model that provides core operational support to 60-plus foundational partners. While they collectively deliver more than 200 essential programs, we also count on them to engage residents, conduct research and be strong voices for systems change.
Multi-service Dixie Bloor Neighbourhood Centre is a true community anchor, providing a comprehensive array of programs to support families dealing with issues from early learning and parenting to mental illness. Stepping up to meet emerging needs, the agency directed grocery cards to community members unable to access food supports during the pandemic, and more recently is assisting Ukrainian newcomers as they settle.
The For Youth Initiative began as a grassroots pilot partnership between eight organizations in response to the lack of services for racialized young people in the former City of York. Today, as a part of our anchor agency network, it is just as passionate about delivering on its mandate to serve youth in York South-Weston.
The Centre for Immigrant and Community Services is an anchor agency and one-stop shop for newcomers, offering language, education, training and employment supports, as well as other settlement services and a community food program.
Three-year Community Program Grants, allocated last year, support 300 high-impact programs that address service gaps, as well as varied and developing needs across our region.
The Journey Neighbourhood Centre champions hope and transformation in Brampton’s Ardglen and Orenda communities – and United Way is part of that work through its support for the Healthy Communities program.
Inn from the Cold Inc. helps people experiencing homelessness and poverty in York Region through outreach and programs strengthening individual plans for achieving stability.
The Centre for Independent Living in Toronto, led by and for people with disabilities, offers independent living skills training, peer support, service navigation and more. Program grant-funded, the Centre also receives an Organizational Infrastructure Grant, a pathway for Indigenous, Black and equity-led organizations to build greater internal capacity and stronger ties to United Way’s network, and part of our commitment to Reconciliation and equity.
Partnership and Systems Grants
Collaboration is in our DNA, and it animates this entire grant stream, supporting close to 20 innovative and strategic projects that are bringing the savviest combos together—be they multiple agencies, corporate and government partners or civic institutions—to advance local solutions on the toughest issues.
With funding through a Partnership and Systems Grant, York Region’s Community Action Tables in Northern Georgina, South Markham, South-Central Richmond Hill and Central Newmarket, together with lead agencies Agincourt Community Services Association, Routes Connecting Communities, and Family Services York, are working with York University to map and enhance mental health services.
The Homelessness Working Group of the South Etobicoke Cluster Table, a coordination table led by United Way and the City of Toronto—including LAMP Community Health Centre, John Howard Society of Toronto, Storefront Humber and Haven on the Queensway—is equipping an emergency community support centre established during the pandemic for continued service at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, New Toronto in South Etobicoke, thanks to a Partnership and Systems Grant.
The Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (CCVT) is leading efforts to assist Tigrayan refugees in the GTA, coordinating with health centres, language program providers and other partners to provide settlement support and other wrap-around services. Another one of our Partnership and Systems Grants in action.
Youth School Success Initiative
This tailored academic and culturally relevant program first developed in Peel and supported by Scotiabank is designed for youth that self-identify as Black or as part of the African diaspora. Combining in-person and online supports as well as specialized programming — Musical Story featuring Afro-Jamaican sounds, Black Excellence in STEM, Career Night with Black Professionals, African drumming sessions — it has now reached 230 middle school students in Toronto and York Region, building self-confidence, enhancing a sense of belonging and connecting youth and their parents to broader community supports.
Led by local agencies like Delta Family Resource Centre, the Markham African Caribbean Canadian Association and BGC East Scarborough, and in cooperation with the Toronto District School Board and York Region School Board, the Youth School Success Initiative, supported by Scotiabank, is assisting youth in grades 6 to 8 to prepare for high school, working out of 11 schools across York and Toronto, as well as two community locations, including the Richmond Hill Library.
Slaight Family Foundation
Targeting the monumental issue of food security, the Slaight Family Foundation looked to United Way Greater Toronto to convene national organizations — Daily Bread, Second Harvest, Community Food Centres Canada, Breakfast Club of Canada and Food Banks Canada — to distribute $7.5 million to food-focused community agencies grappling with rising need throughout the holiday season. Within United Way’s own network, 15 programs facilitated access to healthy and culturally relevant foods through meals and packages, coordinated purchase and distribution of bulk food, as well as unique initiatives that also provide employment and income generating opportunities.
Thanks to the Slaight Family Foundation, Malvern Family Resource Centre is supporting multiple food security initiatives, including a hydroponics program, development of a food strategy and a sustainable future for the flagship Malvern Urban Farm. Additionally, the Farm has benefited from the North Scarborough Cluster Table's advocacy, receiving support through the City of Toronto’s Climate Action Fund, which has enabled the Farm to expand its reach into local schools and markets.
Government funding partners
United Way is proud to work in lockstep with government partners, using our granting expertise and deep community knowledge to ensure financial resources are strategically deployed. For years, we have played a key role in working with the Regional Municipality of York to administer federal Reaching Home dollars. With the pandemic and growing need, that responsibility has expanded significantly, from a $500,000 investment in 2012 to almost $6M in disbursements last year, with a greater emphasis on capital projects and systems-change investments, including permanent supportive housing.
With so many in our community still recovering from the lasting impacts of the pandemic, and agencies struggling to support them, the federal government also recently introduced the Community Services Recovery Fund, earmarked for adaptation and modernization within the charitable sector. Along with partners across the country—United Way Centraide Canada, Canadian Red Cross and Community Foundations of Canada—we are working to deliver over $13 million towards program and service innovation and redesign in the GTA alone. And we are using this opportunity to build in systems change in keeping with our Reconciliation and Equity Action Plan, ensuring we engage people with lived experience in design and delivery of programs, and working alongside Indigenous-led agencies throughout the application process.
Last year, federal Reaching Home dollars administered by United Way added 10 new permanent supportive units to the affordable housing stock in York Region. Additionally, two shelter units were renovated to make them accessible for women experiencing violence.
Local Coordination for Solutions and System Change
At United Way, we know that silos can derail the best intentions and plans, so whenever possible we collaborate with partners to align our efforts for maximum impact. Always a key part of how we work, it is an approach that proved its worth during the height of the pandemic and continues to play an important part in our efforts to drive long-lasting change.
In June 2023, FOCUS marked 10 years of supporting individuals and communities in avoiding and minimizing crises. What started in Rexdale as an alternative approach to managing escalating issues rooted in mental illness, housing and employment problems, has now expanded to six tables. Last year alone, FOCUS intervened in over 1,000 situations, reducing the overall risk in 82 per cent of them. What is learned along the way is tracked and shared at events like the Collaborative Risk Driven Approach Annual Conference, deepening understanding of systemic barriers to effective service delivery, including technological challenges, financial issues and systemic discrimination.
Championed by United Way, the City of Toronto, Toronto Police Service, and partner agencies, FOCUS situation tables operate in Rexdale and five other neighbourhoods across the city—Scarborough, Downtown West, Black Creek, York and Downtown East—calling on the expertise and skills of more than 225 local social service agencies, government divisions, health planning organizations and community legal services. FOCUS has also received a Partnership and Systems Grant for the Toward Peace project, leveraging the lived experience of local residents to disrupt violence in the community.
Social Medicine Initative
The first of its kind to be built in Canada, these 50+ new units for unhoused individuals facing chronic and complex health conditions are a big step in a positive new direction. Simply put, when they open in fall 2023, they will provide a continuum of care in community, so that as people are discharged from health services, they are connected to housing and other supports they need to stay healthier and maintain their housing long-term.
Bringing the commitment and diverse expertise of the City of Toronto, University Health Network, United Way, and local agencies like West Neighbourhood House together, the Social Medicine Initiative is delivering over 50 supportive housing units in Parkdale, bringing community care to individuals experiencing chronic and complex health challenges in addition to homelessness and poverty.
Do you have any questions about new supportive housing at 150 Dunn? The Parkdale Planning Table is hosting a community learning circle on Housing Diversity, Displacement and Rights.
Born out of necessity during the first days of the pandemic, these tables across Toronto, York Region and Peel were indispensable in bringing local government and agencies together to deliver services quickly and equitably under crisis. And frankly, with strong relationships and protocols now connecting 400 organizations in Toronto alone, we cannot imagine doing without them. Today, 15 active tables provide ongoing opportunities to strengthen service coordination, adaptation and responsiveness and enable us to deliver system solutions at the neighbourhood level.
Operating deep in neighbourhoods, Cluster Tables lead innovative and super-local initiatives for change. In North Scarborough, new collaborations have led to the development of a community volunteer income tax program and benefits outreach, resulting in greater financial stability for local seniors living on a fixed income.
Also active across Toronto are the Newcomer Cluster and Black Resilience Cluster.
Quick Action Grants at Community Action Tables
On the ground in York Region, Community Action Tables are where agencies, government, residents, stakeholders and United Way are working together to make progress on local priorities aligned with The Region’s Community Safety and Well-being Plan in four distinct neighbourhoods. Focused action plans related to mental well-being, housing stability and economic stability guide communities in directing Quick Action Grant investments. This is placed-based work and resident engagement at its best, resulting in 50 resident-led initiatives and more than 10 agency-partner projects this past year.
WELLcome to the Lake Simcoe Public School Neighbourhood, a special resident-led event, was designed to engage community members, parents and extended families in a face-to-face welcoming activity after a two-year absence of opportunities for social connection. And that it did, promoting mental well-being, selfcare and community building—thanks to a United Way Quick Action Grant awarded through the Regional Municipality of York’s Community Action Table, and just one of 60 resident or agency-led projects.
Peel Newcomer Strategy Group
Hosted by United Way, the Peel Newcomer Strategy Group, which acts as the Local Immigration Partnership for Peel region, continues to support newcomers through collaboration, research, and navigation and service delivery. Co-chairing the Refugee Resettlement Working Group with the Region of Peel and over 30 agencies, they have supported coordination of settlement services for refugees, displaced Ukrainians and asylum seekers. Specific initiatives underway focus on digital equity to ensure newcomers can connect to services, including through www.ImmigrationPeel.ca with an audience that has grown by almost 15 per cent; a micro-credential course for settlement sector staff in collaboration with Sheridan College; and continuing to track emerging issues.
Newcomer Mental Health and Wellness Through a Settlement Sector Lens, published by the Peel Newcomer Strategy Group in summer 2023 takes a closer look at mental health in the context of settlement and factors such as culture, language and migration stressors. It also provides seven recommendations to enhance mental health supports, including increasing collaboration between mental health and settlement sectors to ensure programs and services are culturally responsive, and improving supports for those working in the field, susceptible to burnout and compassion fatigue.
Social Purpose Real Estate
United Way recognizes that secure and stable access to property in public spaces is crucial when it comes to ensuring that essential community services are available to low-income residents right where they live. That’s why we provide general operating support to community agencies and fund community groups that advocate for critical community spaces as neighbourhoods change, as the Golden Mile Impact Network and Parkdale People’s Economy do. But our biggest contribution to precious community space has been through the creation and continued support of community hubs in traditionally underserved neighbourhoods.
And we continue to look to the future, to ensure that this vital community glue is not lost. Last year, the Social Purpose Real Estate Reference Group—initially born out of conversations co-led by the City of Toronto and United Way Greater Toronto and now chaired by University of Toronto’s Infrastructure Institute in the School of Cities—conducted the Greater Toronto Nonprofit Community Space Survey. This pulse check examines the challenges community organizations are facing as they grapple with the same financial and real estate trends that are driving increased demand for their services. And it makes recommendations on how to leverage existing assets and ways government and community organizations can work together to make more space available for non-profits.
Community hubs at eight locations—AccessPoint on Danforth, Bay Mills, Dorset Park, Rexdale, Mid-Scarborough, Bathurst-Finch, Jane Street, and Victoria Park—have been making a difference for close to a decade, providing access to services, community space and collaboration close to home. But never more than through the pandemic when local agencies led emergency supports from food distribution to vaccination centres. Last year more than 511,000 visits were made; and cumulatively four million since they opened their doors. Now, we are building on that success. Literally, with Bridletowne Neighbourhood Centre, in partnership with Scarborough Hospital and the YMCA of Greater Toronto, breaking ground this summer and Thorncliffe Park Hub due to open in 2023/24.
Rendering of Bridletowne Hub from ReNew Canada
Social Impact Investment Funds
Over the last few years Regent Park has, together with partners, led a different approach to grant making. Rooted in place-based work, this model for raising and distributing targeted funds, and supporting participatory grant-making, looked to residents and stakeholders to connect priorities from their Social Development Plan to projects that would benefit from a local fund. Since 2019, more than $950,000 has been distributed to support both grassroots initiatives and collaborative agency projects.
This past year, much of the investment directed through Regent Park’s Social Impact Investment Fund focused on community building and safety projects for youth, with the NextGen soccer league, Healing as One, and Knowledge2Wisdom mentorship and leadership development programs reaching hundreds of youth and their families. Longer term collaborative agency initiatives increased access to youth outreach supports and after-school programming for middle-school students.
Inclusive Local Economic Opportunities (ILEO)
One of our most ambitious endeavours, ILEO brings not just what we have learned, but who we work with, to a neighbourhood on the cusp of rapid redevelopment and ripe for a better chance. We are laying progressive approaches at the foundation of this project: a community benefits framework, inclusive procurement, a workforce development program and the Aecon-Golden Mile construction joint venture. Majority-owned by community through the Centre for Inclusive Economic Opportunity, this last initiative cycles profits back into the neighbourhood for reinvestment in its future, demonstrating the virtuous circle of prosperity at the heart of the entire project. Altogether, a golden opportunity to build a Golden Mile with strong and lasting employment prospects and other benefits as the community revitalizes. And we are doing that together with residents, agencies and business leaders like BMO Financial Group, including 17 signatories to a paradigm-shifting corporate charter that is all about changing the way we work to generate a fairer future.
Headway on our Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity (ILEO) initiative continues. Not only was it recognized as an example of innovative, transformative and sustainable development by the World Urban Pavilion, but its Good Jobs pilot and Aecon-Golden Mile construction joint venture now boast 125 residents from the Greater Golden Mile hired. Together with Storefront Starter, an entrepreneurial pilot, and procurement commitments, revenue to Golden Mile-based businesses generated over $440,000 last year. Next up: we are turning our attention towards affordable housing, specifically looking at new models for financing, retrofitting of legacy buildings and local asset innovation.
Public Affairs, Research and Community Mobilization
Public policy can deepen and sustain inequities built up over generations, or it can shift us into high gear, dismantling those same barriers and ushering in systemic change that has the power to shape the vitality of our communities and the security and well-being of individual lives. But policy is only as responsive and progressive as we make it, exercising all our tools of influence—research, advocacy and community mobilization.
Building Inclusive Communities report
At a time when our region is growing exponentially, United Way is shining a light on exactly how we can leverage and direct growth so that it nurtures strong neighbourhoods rather than contributing to gentrification and displacement. Together with BGM Strategy Group, we assessed nine program and policy interventions—many already in action across the GTA—that have demonstrated success in promoting social and economic inclusion and creating positive social change amid growth and development. Through measures like rental unit replacement and inclusionary zoning, the report equips community, public and private sector partners with practical insights and actionable steps to create welcoming places that provide equitable access to the resources, programs and services, as well as the opportunities, residents need to participate fully in society and to actualize individual and collective prosperity and well-being.
Workforce agreements are one of nine interventions identified in our Building Inclusive Communities report. During the revitalization of Regent Park, a workforce agreement prioritized local residents for construction and post-construction jobs. United Way anchor agency Dixon Hall supported employment training and apprenticeships by recruiting and preparing residents for these work opportunities. Other initiatives in action include neighbourhood-level workforce development programs like the ILEO Good Jobs pilot and Aecon-Golden Mile joint venture in Scarborough. Community Benefits Agreements are also at work across the region, often used in conjunction with other interventions, and spearheaded by the United Way-funded Toronto Community Benefits Network and Peel Community Benefits Network.
While we look to the future, we are also mindful of not losing the valuable learning we gained during the most difficult days of the pandemic. Across our region, social service agencies and their partners found new ways to serve community. Together with the Canadian Philanthropy Partnership Research Network (PhiLab), United Way documented and unpacked agency innovations so that they can be adapted elsewhere. An inspiring five-part series focuses on areas as diverse as digital program delivery and Indigenous health partnerships—and has been shared widely, including at the Forum on Innovation and Societal Impact: Skills + Knowledge, held at McMaster University and co-presented by The/La Collaborative and the Canadian Science Policy Centre.
A collaboration between United Way anchor agency Na-Me-Res, Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto and Well Living House, Auduzhe Mino Nesewinong Clinic was formed during the pandemic to fill a gap in Indigenous-specific health services, offering culturally safe testing, vaccines and wrap-around supports. Paired with the We Count COVID-19 research and database, this comprehensive response places Indigenous health monitoring in Indigenous hands, constituting an act of sovereignty. A notable learning, it is now captured in our case study collection and ready for investment and replication elsewhere.
In partnership with York University, United Way developed a free certificate program to support agencies in sharing their research. Through six sessions, participants from over 120 organizations heard from speakers and learned how to bridge academic and community research. Focusing on partnerships, data equity and communication strategies and evaluation, they covered topics such as the role that people with lived experience can play in communicating research findings and recommendations, and providing real world examples of best practices.
Knowledge mobilization was on the curriculum for agencies seeking best practices in sharing their community-based research. Thanks to a partnership between York University and United Way, representatives from 120 agencies were able to partake in a six-part capacity-building program.
Community Mobilization in an Election Year
Elections at both provincial and municipal levels provided a unique opportunity to bring our priorities for socially and economically inclusive communities to the attention of candidates and voters:
In advance of the provincial election, together with Ontario for All, Peel Poverty Reduction Committee, Social Planning Toronto and Social Planning York Region, we co-hosted five policy roundtables. About 500 non-profit leaders from more than 300 organizations discussed and debated, ultimately outlining a shared Agenda for Change to create an Ontario that works for everyone. And in July, we led United Ways across Ontario in writing an open letter to Premier Doug Ford, calling for close collaboration and offering solutions to shared challenges, from housing to jobs to services.
At the local level, we developed a municipal election checklist, a simple tool to support civic participation and calling on candidates to pledge to #TakeActionOnPoverty. Together with Social Planning Toronto, we moderated expert panel discussions on affordable housing, food security, the community services sector, community-based alternatives to policing, harm reduction, and mental health. And we participated in a panel discussion on the future of Toronto and our region with civic leaders, moderated by CBC’s Ismaila Alfa and hosted by the Democratic Engagement Exchange at Toronto Metropolitan University.
In all instances, including the Toronto mayoral race this spring, when we co-hosted a debate with The Toronto Star and Toronto Metropolitan University, we’ve worked with partners to bring people closer to the issues, fostering greater civic engagement—especially among new electors and those facing barriers, including racialized, low-income and newcomer populations—so that residents are better positioned to exercise their rights and amplify their voice in shaping their community.
In an election year, United Way partnered with Toronto Metropolitan University’s Democratic Engagement Exchange to promote civic engagement through resources, training and events like the 2023 Toronto Mayoral Debate – Our Future, Our Vote: A Toronto for All.
Outside of the election cycle we continued to reach out to government and work closely with partners to influence policy development:
As part of the provincial government’s 2023 pre-budget consultations, United Way Greater Toronto led the development of a joint pre-budget submission from Ontario United Ways. And United Way and Ontario for All, together with the Peel Poverty Reduction Committee, Social Planning Toronto and Social Planning Council York Region, hosted 150 leaders from the community services sector to hear from policy researchers and advocates on housing, income supports and social services to craft sector-wide recommendations that were shared with government in a submission under the Ontario for All banner.
Invited to participate in a consultation with the provincial Portable Benefits Advisory Panel, United Way advocated for all workers in Ontario to receive full and equal employment rights, in addition to access to affordable and comprehensive benefits for all workers and their dependents.
In response to the Ontario government’s More Homes Built Faster Act, United Ways across Ontario, led by United Way Greater Toronto, the Tower Renewal Partnership, and Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership made recommendations on preserving and renewing existing affordable rental stock to keep low-income Ontarians housed, including regulations that support rental unit replacement.
Leading Social Justice Fellowship
A joint effort between United Way Greater Toronto and University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman Executive Programs, the Fellowship has now stewarded a second cohort of 18 teams—54 leaders from the private, public and community sectors—committed to addressing enduring challenges, many made more prominent during the pandemic. From taking action on gun violence to supporting people with chronic health conditions, they are determined to advance real systems solutions.
Part of the Leading Social Justice Fellowship—a collaboration between United Way Greater Toronto and University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman Executive Programs—a team from John Howard Society Ontario is paving a way back into community for justice system involved Black and Indigenous individuals, building out an online directory of employment and wrap-around supports.
Indigenous Partnership Council
Led by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people, with a focus on making recommendations on community investments, fundraising and research, the Indigenous Partnership Council (IPC) is guided by the Seven Grandfather’s Teachings and consensus-based decision making. While it has been focused on expanding geographic and sector representation and deepening relationships, the IPC will move forward with an investment plan for $1.5 million to support system-level initiatives that respond to the needs of urban Indigenous peoples in the region over the next three to five years. Priorities include the development of Indigenous-led social infrastructure in York and Peel Region, and the expansion of culturally responsive mental health and well-being supports in the GTA.
Community Advisory Councils
For more than 15 years, Community Advisory Councils have been instrumental in guiding United Way’s work, providing insight on the challenges and opportunities impacting Black, South Asian and Chinese communities across our region. Highlights for last year include the development of an action plan focused on increasing representation of racialized leaders in C-suite positions and hosting hard-hitting panel discussions on women’s empowerment and anti-Asian racism.
Equality and equity were at the forefront of events hosted by Community Advisory Councils, with the South Asian Advisory Council’s Empowering Women: Pathways to Equality and Well-being featuring United Way-funded agency leads Deepa Mattoo of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic; Deena Ladd of Workers’ Action Centre and Jyoti Singh of Nellie’s. And United We Stand! An Anti-Asian Racism Forum organized by the Chinese Advisory Council, brought brought together community leaders, including CICS’s Alfred Lam to discuss the impacts of anti-Asian racism in the GTA.