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Meet the Parkdale changemaker keeping folks housed

Groups of residents talk together around large tables at PARC
Courtesy of Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (PARC)

PARC Executive Director Victor Willis shows us how the Parkdale community is prioritizing affordable housing

Dear Friend,

You can’t walk ten steps along Queen West with my friend Victor Willis, Executive Director of PARC, without business owners, neighbours and unhoused folks greeting him. He’s a beloved part of the Parkdale community and a staunch changemaker in every sense of the word, leading United Way-funded PARC to ensure residents are supported and housing there stays affordable.

It’s a cold October morn and he’s giving a few of us a tour, starting at Edmond Place, a 29-unit low-rise that PARC has converted into affordable peer-run housing for residents who may have otherwise been pushed out of the community. Not only does it keep people housed, including many who face mental health challenges, but it also connects them to local services and neighbours. Victor tells us that while Parkdale has been a landing pad for newcomers and others seeking low-cost housing for the past 70 years, finding an affordable place to live is becoming increasingly difficult.

“New owners buy mid-rise towers, upgrade the units and then raise the rent to three times or greater than what it was before,” he explains.

As we head south, Victor describes the work of collaborations led and co-led by residents, like the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust. With seed funding from United Way, the trust purchases land in the area and ensures it’s used to meet the needs of the community. As we walk down tree-lined streets, Victor points to a few of the 84 properties the trust owns, which include a community garden and many Toronto Community Housing sites with United Way programming.

Finally, we enter the parking lot next to University Health Network’s Bickle Centre — the future home of the Social Medicine Initiative. Behind fences and excavators, the 51 units of permanent, affordable, supportive housing are already beginning to emerge. You’ve heard us talk about the incredible impact this collaboration between the City of Toronto, UHN, United Way and our community partners will have — not just in the GTA but well beyond. It exists because of the research and advocacy of a host of United Way partners, from PARC to West Neighbourhood House to the resident-led Parkdale People’s Economy.

It exists because you help us fund frontline agencies while addressing the root causes of poverty, like affordable housing, in neighbourhoods from Parkdale to Dixie Bloor, Milliken Mills to the Greater Golden Mile.

Always, and only, thank you. 

Daniele Zanotti
President & CEO
United Way Greater Toronto

Things to Know Right Now

Daniele Zanotti stands at a podium with a sign reading 'More affordable housing' affixed to it. Representatives from different levels of government stand next to him.
United Way’s Daniele Zanotti speaking at a press conference for the Social Medicine Initiative

Housing and homelessness

“We can, and must, step up our collective action. We need housing and community supports that are adequate and dignified — and we need them now.” That’s the case our President and CEO, Daniele Zanotti, made in the Toronto Star with Mark Aston, the chair of the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness. They urge incoming elected officials to prioritize addressing homelessness and to provide deeply affordable housing and access to community support. What can such officials do? They can establish a minimum monthly target for housing access; create a dedicated fund and increase financial resources to ensure homelessness is rare, brief, and nonrecurring; dedicate funding for housing strategies focused on Indigenous, Black and racialized people; and they can integrate supportive housing into their plans. With the election concluded, United Way and the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness stand ready to work with government, as partners in community, to address homelessness.

Community safety

One simple, cost-effective way to prevent crime? Investing in programs that help people live healthy, secure lives. As the Star Editorial Board recently pointed out, we have ample evidence that funding parenting programs, mentoring and skill building activities for children, and programs that teach young people about healthy relationships all reduce arrests and overall crime — and save taxpayers money. But too often these effective, cost-saving programs struggle to stay funded. United Way and our agencies have been sounding the alarm about how underfunding in the sector affects our community’s well-being — and have called on the province to strengthen the sector. We hope you’ll join us in continuing to push government at all levels to invest in the social services and programs that keep our communities safe, healthy and welcoming.

Get Involved

Group of people in workout gear pose for a photo. Overlay copy: GetUP Nov. 1-10, 2022

This week: GetUP!

You can help us build a better community in just 300 minutes! Get #UP4Community from Nov. 1-10 to help us raise urgently needed funds. With each stride, stretch, jump, skip, dance step or pedal, you’ll be supporting your friends and neighbours experiencing poverty, homelessness, hunger and other related issues. Sign up today.

And don’t forget to join the Facebook event to easily invite your friends to join.

South Asian Community Advisory Council’s annual event

Join United Way South Asian Community Advisory Council on Nov. 24 for Empowering Women: Pathways to Equality and Well-being. The virtual discussion, which includes inspiring local leaders from the community, will centre around the impact of the pandemic on the social and economic well-being of South Asian women and what the pathways of success for South Asian communities look like. Register today to secure your spot.

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