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Supporting healthy communities in the GTA

Staff from Anishnawbe Health Toronto test residents for COVID-19 outside a high-rise building, supporting healthy communities
Courtesy of Anishnawbe Health Toronto

Healthy communities depend on the local work community agencies engage in every day

Dear Friend,

Here at United Way, we often talk about how the big issues affecting the GTA—income inequality, lack of affordable housing, mental health—don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re all interconnected. Making a fair wage impacts your ability to keep a roof over your head. Stress from your gas bill affects your mental well-being. And poverty most certainly impacts your health.

That’s why, in addition to the support government provides, healthy communities depend on the local work community agencies engage in every day. Helping people navigate the system. Providing culturally sensitive mental health support. Making sure seniors are active and connected.

United Way’s network does exactly that. Our partner agencies have been there during the pandemic, facilitating COVID-19 testing and vaccine rollouts in hard-hit neighbourhoods. 211, founded and funded by United Way, is connecting people to the services they need and working with local organizations on innovative pilot projects like Toronto’s Community Crisis Service, which provides community-based, client-centred, trauma-informed responses to mental health crises. Punjabi Community Health Services’ SAHARA Family Enhancement Program not only provides one-on-one counselling and group sessions to entire families, but also trains participants to mentor others. And Street Health Community Nursing Foundation’s CHECK program provides harm reduction supplies to people who use substances and who are experiencing homelessness and helps them access healthcare. And these are just a few examples of the tremendous work our network is doing to support the well-being of our neighbours.

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the best way to bolster our collective health is by caring for one another. That’s why United Way will continue to invest in programs that keep people healthy and connected. Your support makes that possible. Thank you for joining us.

Always, and only, thank you. 

Daniele Zanotti
President & CEO
United Way Greater Toronto

Things to Know Right Now

A mother holds her baby who is playing with an orange

Supporting Refugees

A new hotline from United Way-founded and funded 211 is helping Ukrainian refugees in our region access crucial support and services. The GTHA Ukraine Crisis Response Portal is reducing barriers and connecting Ukrainians to food banks, childcare, housing, mental health resources, and other services to help our new neighbours settle and thrive. By making our communities inviting and inclusive, we make them stronger. United Way is proud to support the work of 211 during these difficult times.

A staff member from Eden Food for Change stands in front of a food pantry
Courtesy of Eden Food for Change

Food Security

As post-secondary students get ready for back-to-school, many are grappling with food insecurity. The sky-high cost of living is challenging households across the country, and students are no exception. A recent survey shows that younger Canadians are more likely than older Canadians to be very concerned about their ability to afford housing or rent. Meanwhile, the Toronto Star reported as many as 40 per cent of post-secondary students do not have reliable access to nutritious, affordable food. This means students could be forced to decide between paying for housing or eating proper meals. While rising costs are exacerbating this issue, student food insecurity is not new. In 2019, we wrote about the need to retire the “starving student” stereotype and take this issue more seriously. United Way supports food security for people of all ages across the GTA. We partner with organizations such as FoodShareThe Stop and Eden Food for Change to meet immediate need, and work on long-term solutions by advocating for critical changes to address food insecurity, including boosting income security, investing in affordable housing, and recognizing food and housing as basic rights.

Update from the Frontlines

The Ontario government’s throne speech pledge of a five per cent increase in Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) payments is promising, but more needs to be done. The increase will bring in an additional $58 a month for ODSP recipients, with annual increases based on inflation. ODSP rates have been frozen since 2018, with a single person eligible to receive up to $1,169 a month. While the hike is a step in the right direction, it fails to meet the fast-rising cost of living. In our recent open letter to Premier Doug Ford, we joined United Ways from across the province to ask that ODSP payments reflect livable levels so that people with disabilities are not forced to live in poverty. Roughly 500,000 individuals or families count on ODSP for part or all of their income. At United Way, we believe everyone has the right to live with dignity and respect, and we call on the province to help make this possible.

Get Involved

Photo of a group of participants from a Toronto Enterprise Fund ESE

Opportunity: Launch an employment social enterprise

United Way’s Toronto Enterprise Fund is looking for organizations and entrepreneurs interested in developing their own employment social enterprise (ESE). ESEs are businesses that create training and employment opportunities for people facing systemic barriers to entry into the mainstream labour market. If you’re interested in launching your own ESE, or know someone who is, apply for the ESE Idea Accelerator, a series of eight virtual workshops that will help you develop your idea. Graduates of the program may apply for a Catalyzing Grant of up to $7,500 to create a feasibility study and business plan. Sign up for the ESE 101 webinar on August 25 to get started.

Photo of a residents walking a biking in a cityscape next to a headshot of United Way’s Nicole McVan

Opportunity: Join us for a talk about welcoming refugees to the GTA 

We’re proud that the GTA is welcoming refugees from Afghanistan, Ukraine and many other countries, but what needs to happen to ensure our new neighbours thrive? Join us on September 8 as we examine the barriers newcomers and refugees face—and the incredible ways they’re making our region a better home for all. This engaging virtual discussion will be hosted by United Way’s own Nicole McVan, Vice President Philanthropy & Marketing, and will feature guest Rebecca Saburi of BMO. Reserve your spot today.

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