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Celebrating 10 Years of FOCUS Toronto

Three people posing and smiling.
FOCUS Toronto’s Scerena Officer, Evon Smith, and Staff Sergeant Brian Smith

This week we’re talking about FOCUS Toronto’s anniversary, a new African Resettlement Emergency Fund, the ILEO Community Storefront, and the launch of our CN Tower climb!

Dear Friend,

These summer months, I’ve been reading about violence across our region, and I know that it concerns you as much as it does me. But I want you to know that United Way is hard at work leading, funding and supporting initiatives that reduce crime, victimization and harm. Fewer deaths. Fewer injuries. Fewer imprisonments. Less trauma.

I especially want to highlight FOCUS Toronto, now in its 10th year.

FOCUS, or Furthering Our Community by Uniting Services, is led by United Way, the City of Toronto and the Toronto Police Service, which work with over 250 local organizations, police divisions, and community stakeholders to address high-risk situations before they can erupt into fatal or devastating incidences. That looks like supporting a family after their home was shot at three times in two weeks; it looks like providing mental health resources for a man causing violence in the community; and it looks like providing education and wraparound supports for a teen wanting to end their gang involvement.

As its United Way lead Evon Smith puts it, FOCUS Toronto has helped “the most vulnerable Torontonians subjected to gun and gang violence, suicide attempts, substance use, overdoses, domestic violence, threats, poverty, eviction, human trafficking, criminal victimization, lack of basic needs like food and clothing, unemployment, sexual violence and any combination of the above.”

Over the last decade, FOCUS has intervened in an astounding 5,500 situations, impacting over 9,000 people. In 2022 alone, FOCUS intervened in 1,071 situations, reducing risk in 82 per cent of them, and redirecting about 74 per cent of cases from enforcement back to community agencies. FOCUS Toronto has become the model for similar tables in Peel and York Region as well.

In addition to FOCUS, we support initiatives like TO Wards Peace, which trains residents to disrupt violence in the community; For Youth Initiative’s work improving academic and economic opportunities for youth who have come into conflict with the law; Amadeusz’s education program for young people in detention centers; and METRAC’s safety toolkits that help residents promote community safety.

Looking upstream, providing wraparound supports, coming together, working together—that’s how we give people opportunities for a life away from violence. We’ll keep at it, and we hope that you continue to stick with us as well.

Always, and only, thank you.

Daniele Zanotti
President & CEO
United Way Greater Toronto

Things to Know Right Now

Downtown Toronto from above.

African Resettlement Emergency Fund

We are proud to be launching the African Resettlement Emergency Fund to help refugee claimants—many of whom are fleeing violence and persecution based on their sexual and gender identities—settle into their new home, including providing housing and employment support, food, clothing, community connections and more. The fund establishes a donor portal for the City, lending our granting expertise to support community organizations working with claimants and focusing on efforts by Black-led community groups.

Last month, refugee claimants were turned away from at-capacity shelters and were left sleeping in the street. Black-led community and faith-based organizations were among the first to provide temporary shelter, food, clothing and support for these newcomers until additional funding and temporary shelter beds were made available.

Inclusive Communities

Mayor Olivia Chow is poised to take action on affordable housing and inclusive economic development, showcasing our Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity Initiative (ILEO) in Greater Golden Mile as a successful example. During the mayor’s first transition engagement meeting, community and corporate partners from ILEO discussed existing solutions and ongoing employment and training initiatives that have already created jobs. In her swearing-in speech, Mayor Chow further emphasized the power of collaboration between United Way, community service organizations, corporate CEOs, and developers to deliver housing and economic opportunities.

“We saw United Way and other community service organizations sitting alongside corporate CEOs and developers,” she said. “They’re working together to deliver housing and economic opportunities to the community and local residents because they know that they can deliver more for people when they come together and work together. That’s the magic. We need more of their unity and action in the city.”

Gender-based Violence

To raise awareness and public funding, more than 30 Ontario regions and municipalities have declared gender-based and intimate partner violence an epidemic. “We are almost always at full capacity,” says Rebecca Pacheco, a coordinator at United Way-funded Embrave Agency to End Violence. “The demand is larger than what community services are able to offer and it’s horrible.”

United Way has long provided funding for programs that connect women of diverse backgrounds to safe shelter and help them build new lives. In addition, we invest in systems-change initiatives like a Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic program that sees staff participate in public policy discussions, present in courts to challenge unjust laws, and engage in media relations as a voice on violence against women and women’s marginalization; and a YWCA Toronto program that works with clients and other stakeholders to identify the root causes and systemic barriers that hold women and girls back and advocates for policy and social change to advance women’s equality.

Update from the Frontlines

Kids sitting at a table making cards with coloured paper and pencil crayons.

Community Connections

A United Way-funded program at the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre is finding innovative ways to bridge gaps and foster cross-cultural and intergenerational connections. The centre’s afterschool program, which serves children living at the centre, brought handmade cards to the residents of a nearby long-term care home before putting on a heartwarming musical performance featuring singing, dancing, African drum beats and the ukelele. The performance brought joy to the residents while also helping the children develop confidence, social skills and community engagement, and has led to regular visits.

Get Involved

A shop owner at the ILEO Community Storefront in the Distillery District standing in front of a stall.

Shop the ILEO Community Storefront

Join us for the ILEO Community Storefront, where you can find locally made clothing, beauty products, home goods, abstract art and more while enjoying food and entertainment for the whole family. All the entrepreneurs are part of the Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity (ILEO) Storefront Starter program, which helps entrepreneurs from Scarborough’s Greater Golden Mile build their business and contribute to a vibrant retail environment. Find the market on Case Goods Lane in the Distillery District in downtown Toronto until Sept. 3.

Get Ready to ClimbUP!

After a three-year hiatus, we are thrilled to announce the return of our CN Tower climb! Join us for United Way’s ClimbUP for community on October 21 and 22. There are two ways to participate: climb all 1,776 steps of the tower and help raise funds to fight local poverty, or sign up to volunteer and help make the event an incredible experience for everyone. No matter how you choose to get involved, we’d love to have you join us!

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