This opinion piece by President and CEO of United Way Greater Toronto Daniele Zanotti was originally published on toronto.com on Feb. 16, 2023
Growing food insecurity. Critical lack of affordable housing and desperate homelessness. Escalating mental health and complex care needs. All signposts of rising poverty and inequality: these are the concerns confronting Ontarians today. On the horizon is rapid growth — and the opportunity to leverage that momentum to invest in an Ontario where everyone can prosper.
Over the past few weeks, United Way Greater Toronto — the largest funder of social services next to government and a leader in cross-sectoral innovation and systems-level solutions — has been focused on exactly that. Working with United Ways across the province, as well as front-line community agencies, we’ve identified the priorities, programs and policies that can make the difference for those facing the greatest challenges, especially people confronting structural and systemic barriers, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples; Black and other racialized communities; women; older adults; people living with disabilities; and 2SLGBTQ+ communities. And it’s these recommendations that we’ve urged the government to take into account in its upcoming budget:
Safe, affordable and accessible housing options
A place to call home is the first step in ensuring a stable life, foundational for people to access employment, education, food and other supports. But for many, that chance is a pipe dream, unless in addition to government’s efforts to boost supply, we also ensure truly affordable and accessible housing options for lower-income Ontarians. Maintaining what we have through investment in existing affordable units is one piece of the strategy. Another is funding transitional and supportive housing, which sets people up for success, providing a lifeline for those living with mental illness and substance use or survivors of domestic violence. And increasingly, we see non-profit organizations can play an instrumental role not just as advocates and service providers but as affordable housing developers.
Greater income security and equitable access to employment supports
For some, rising costs and inflation have put both necessities and a life with dignity beyond reach. Recent increases to minimum wage and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) have been welcome, but income security will only be improved if those supports are brought to livable levels. We also need to reduce job precarity through legislation that protects workers and supports sick leave, health and wellness benefits. And we need to invest in pathways to good jobs, matching skills training to market needs, leveraging transit-oriented and other infrastructure developments into opportunities for local residents and providing wraparound support to help propel people toward strong careers and futures.
A strong community services sector able to deliver critical services
Our community services sector is running on empty, straining to meet unprecedented needs with an unsustainable model, staffing shortages and front-line burnout. We must reinforce this sector so that it’s equipped to support our communities now and into the future. That requires stable and long-term funding and a labour force strategy and development plan — including competitive wages — to attract and retain workers. It means working together to revitalize charitable giving and volunteerism, to develop new approaches to funding and service provision in rural communities.
Inclusive, connected and equitable communities
Finally, every Ontarian deserves a safe place to live with access to the services and opportunities that build the foundation for a good life. We can do this through enabling local residents to engage on local issues and work together to find local solutions, increasing funding for anti-hate initiatives, ensuring access to reliable and affordable transit and broadband service in rural areas and supporting the implementation of province-mandated community safety and well-being plans.
We know these recommendations are just a start. United Ways stand ready, and uniquely positioned, to work with governments every step of the way so that public dollars deliver lasting solutions to today’s most acute social and economic challenges.