To how many more generations are we going to promise equity? If we do not act now, we never will.

AGAPI GESSESSE, Executive Director, CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals

Policymakers and Donors

In the past, Toronto Foundation has refrained from making direct recommendations to policymakers and others, but we the unprecedented nature of this pandemic compels us to use our community insights to mobilize others into action. Here we’ve summarized the end-of-chapter priorities for decision-makers and tips for just about anyone who cares about Toronto and wants to make it the best it can be.

COVID-19 has infected more than one and a half million Canadians and killed over 27,000. Toronto has been one of the epicentres, with more than 177,000 confirmed cases and 3,641 deaths as of September 17, 2021.1 The number of lives lost here, and the number of people left grieving at a time when gathering limits prevented many from finding solace in traditional funeral rites, is staggering. As of September 16, 2021, 75.1% have had at least one vaccine dose, and 70.0% have had two doses.

Policy Makers and Donors

01

Expand community-led crisis and peer-support services to help with the long-term mental health consequences of the pandemic.

02

Invest in a resilient food infrastructure (food hubs, co-ops, community gardens,etc.) that allows communities to have more sovereignty over food growth and access, particularly Black and Indigenous communities.

03

Ensure ongoing and sufficient income supports that could reduce or eliminate food insecurity.

04

Support sustainable community-driven programming that will facilitate connection and community building as the pandemic subsides.

05

Advocate for the broader adoption of universal design principles into program and project creation and improvement.

06

When funding programs, provide additional resources to support the cost for accommodations to include people with disabilities within a broader, intersectional framework aimed at reducing systemic barriers to participation.

Tips for Torontonians

  • Prioritize donating money to food banks rather than non-perishable items, so they can determine what culturally appropriate food is suitable and in demand and can allocate their resources best on additional programming and/or advocacy
  • If you want to support mental health and wellbeing, remember that community organizations offering peer-to-peer support, as well as recreational, cultural, and holistic programming, are an important component of the supportive healthcare system, particularly for Indigenous communities.
  • Some of the most effective community-based health organizations recognize the intersectionality of health, meaning that they work at the crossroads of health and other issues, i.e., gender, sexuality, race, immigration status, disability, etc. A varied approach that accounts for the unique needs of different population groups is critical to positive health outcomes.

Community Insights

03_LIZA ARNASON_HEALTH AND WELLNESS

Income inequality has long been a dominant theme in Toronto’s Vital Signs reports. The experience of the pandemic has taken this pre-existing condition to places never before imagined. Headlines from 2021 about unprecedented growth in housing prices and that “Canadians built a $2 trillion ‘wall of wealth’ during the pandemic: and it’s not just housing’’ are intermingled with stories about how 11% of Toronto residents are behind on rent, and food bank usage at Daily Bread Food Bank has soared to the highest level ever, as of June 2021. During the pandemic, the gap between the richest and the poorest has intensified in new ways.

Policy Makers and Donors

01

Seize the opportunity to reform the tax system, so that the gains of some are shared with those struggling the most. Policy experts have already tabled a range of options from a guaranteed minimum income to a wealth tax and increases to capital gains taxes.

02

Increase social supports to match CERB and bring low-income residents above the poverty line, as recommended by research and public policy findings.

03

Fund the advocacy efforts of groups pushing for universal basic income.

04

Shift from project to unrestricted operating support for social service organizations to meet increased and long-term demand.

Tips for Torontonians

  • Advocate for and support organizations working toward a universal basic income.
  • Consider donating to organizations working with those who are being marginalized the most and hardest-to-reach individuals. Give without restrictions and commit for more than one year.
  • Join a giving circle to increase the impact of your contributions and come together with like-minded people to make change.

Community Insights

03_LUKE ANDERSON_INCOME AND WEALTH

Even before the pandemic, the experience of work in Toronto was highly unequal. The city is home to some of the highest earners in the country, but low wages and poor labour conditions continue to be the norm for hundreds of thousands of people in the city, many from racialized communities and for recent immigrants, too. In the wake of the previous recession, temporary jobs grew at a rate five times faster than permanent jobs from 2008 to 2018, leaving considerable vulnerability for workers.

Policy Makers and Donors

01

Advance opportunities for better labour standards including paid sick days, changes to minimum wage and rules around equal pay for equal work.

02

Increase childcare funding and create more childcare spots across the city, especially in underserved communities in Scarborough and in the northwest of the city.

03

Provide more employment training programs and academic upgrading programs, so that unemployed people can return to work more quickly and avoid the negative consequences of long-term unemployment.

04

Focus employment programs on those populations that face the greatest barriers to decent work: women, Indigenous and racialized communities, immigrants, people with disabilities and young people.

Tips for Torontonians

  • Support social enterprises with money and time, as they provide on-the-job training and essential revenue for community organizations.
  • Volunteer as a mentor to individuals facing barriers to employment.

Community Insights

The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we relate to one another. The experience underlined the role of social capital — the network of relationships that enable us to work and thrive together — and how precarious this can be in the face of a public health crisis. Early in the pandemic, we saw a surge in trust in many institutions that declined as the months rolled on. What remains is half of Canadians believing that government, business leaders and journalists are purposely misleading us.

Policy Makers and Donors

01

Continue to promote an increased awareness of Reconciliation, as well as racial and social justice in the city and fund related advocacy.

02

Appeal to the segment of Torontonians who have saved significantly during the pandemic to make multi-year, unrestricted donations to charities.

03

Safeguard the mental health of nonprofit staff by ensuring access to mental health services and additional time off, especially for staff who have been overworked during the pandemic.

04

Invest in activities that can help sustain and rebuild social networks and connections post-pandemic.

05

Nurture new forms of both online and in-person engagement that have emerged during the pandemic and can continue to provide enhanced social services to the city’s most vulnerable.

Tips for Torontonians

  • Consider forgoing the need for a charitable receipt and contribute financially to grassroots organizations that do not have charitable status. They are often led by the communities they serve and offer powerful solutions to entrenched challenges. As well, a little can go a long way.
  • Plan time for volunteering in ways that tap into your interests and make good use of your skills. This can help expand your social network, too. You can offer your time, talent and treasure.
  • Start a giving circle, where you pool funds with friends, family and colleagues for shared learning and bigger impact.

Community Insights

Summer 2021 was marked by extreme weather events across the globe. July 2021 ended up being the hottest month ever recorded on earth. Lytton, B.C. experienced the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Canada, followed by a devastating forest fire. The B.C. coroner’s office reported 800 deaths across B.C. in the wake of the one-week heat dome, more than four times what had been considered usual. Worldwide, much of the northern hemisphere saw record-high temperatures as heat domes extended across dozens of countries. And widespread flooding due to extreme rainfall led to hundreds of deaths in Germany and Belgium. Here at home, Toronto recorded the highest temperature ever in July 2020, in the early months of COVID-19.

Policy Makers and Donors

01

Enable environmental initiatives that are intentionally intersectional, meaning that they embrace the interconnectedness and diversity of planet and people.

02

Increase access to nature and public space for different populations and invest in amenities that serve the local community.

03

Build more natural infrastructure, particularly outside the downtown core, led by the local community.

04

Support social infrastructure at the neighbourhood level to build environmental leadership and stewardship that reflects communities.

05

Focus on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

06

Integrate public learning and engagement into reduce-and-reuse efforts for widespread uptake.

Tips for Torontonians

  • Bring environmental consciousness to your daily routines, from what you buy and where you invest, to how you get around and what you eat.
  • Support the advocacy efforts of environmental groups. Their voice is essential to ensure the necessary policy changes are put in place to reverse environmental degradation.
  • Retrofit your residence to maximize energy efficiency and model best practice in energy efficiency, and water and waste diversion.

Community Insights

The switch to online education has been challenging for students and parents, with disrupted and unequal learning, lack of connection with peers, loss of recreational opportunities and increased mental health challenges. And yet, the forced experiment in virtual education also presented opportunities to expand reach and explore different avenues for learning for many nonprofits, which saw enrolment in extra-curricular virtual programming increase.

Policy Makers and Donors

01

Push for the inclusion of Indigenous history, knowledge and innovation, as well as anti-racist material more generally, into the curriculum from the primary levels through to post-secondary.

02

Focus educational supports on neighbourhoods and groups hardest hit by the pandemic and provide unrestricted and multi-year support that acknowledges the necessary shifts in program delivery.

03

Close the digital divide by investing in more universal access to the internet and digital devices.

04

Recognize that extra-curricular programming that keeps children and youth emotionally and physically healthy and able to learn is fundamental to equitable educational outcomes.

05

Fund programs that bridge school and work, and the transition from elementary school to post-secondary, as they are just as important as those offered throughout the elementary and secondary school context.

06

Support front-line organizations working with communities that are being marginalized, so they can engage in public policy development. Their experience is critical to addressing systemic gaps and ensuring that all students have the capacity to succeed.

07

Research into the pitfalls, as well as the opportunities, that virtual learning can bring will pave the way for improved access to education and better learning outcomes for all.

Tips for Torontonians

  • Academic achievement and post-secondary attainment are contingent on strong social supports. Consider the barriers many children and youth face and support those organizations best equipped to address them. Sometimes this is as simple as ensuring basic nutrition needs are being met, a quiet place to go to do homework or access to physical activity to fuel brain energy.
  • Mentor a student to give them an additional outlet and a source of inspiration.

Community Insights

Arts and culture, and recreation and sport are all fundamental to making Toronto a livable city. The role they play in connecting people and building social capital, as well as health and wellbeing, came into sharp focus in the face of physical distancing measures. Much of their activity was curtailed and, in the case of sport, in particular, came to a complete halt. The impact of this has been devastating to the finances of nonprofits and charities serving these sectors.

Policy Makers and Donors

01

Earmark funds to grow arts and culture opportunities for Indigenous community members to reclaim their culture and language.

02

Consider wages for artists when funding arts organizations. Artists are the backbone of the sector, and yet CERB represented a rare moment of financial stability for many.

03

Support initiatives to advance greater diversity and anti-racism in the sector so that all communities feel to participate.

04

Support existing efforts to expand programming outside of downtown and into lower-income neighbourhoods.

05

Build from scratch or retrofit additional arts and recreation facilities, especially in underserved communities and, in the meantime, ensure that low-income communities have access to existing spaces.

06

Invest in either free or low-cost arts and recreation activities with a holistic approach that also considers transportation and equipment costs to create more access for marginalized communities.

Tips for Torontonians

  • Routinely add a donation when you’re purchasing tickets to events. This kind of unrestricted funding is critical particularly as organizations recover from huge financial losses due to COVID-19.
  • Explore the range of culturally diverse arts programming available across the city. There’s no better way to understand the unique perspectives and experiences of your fellow residents.
  • If you typically donate to cultural institutions, consider supporting neighbourhood programs, too. Local arts and physical activity programs are often the first points of entry for young people.
  • Before you donate, ask organizations whether or not they provide subsidies or bursaries for audiences and participants who face barriers to experience the arts and/or sports.

Community Insights

With the first news of the pandemic’s arrival, safety rose up as a central theme in all of our lives. Those of us who could be sheltered at home, where we could feel safe and secure. Others took the necessary risks to keep income flowing to pay bills and feed family, though this significantly increased the likelihood of getting sick.

Policy Makers and Donors

01

Fund culturally specific mental health support, particularly for residents who’ve experienced anti-Black racism and all Indigenous peoples in the city who’ve borne the weight of intergenerational trauma brought on by residential schools and colonialism.

02

Decouple policing from mental health crisis intervention.

03

Invest in wraparound supports for those experiencing gender-based violence, including shelter, legal aid, affordable housing and other key services.

04

Integrate overdose prevention services into all shelters and ensure the widespread availability of Naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses and save lives.

05

Expand culturally safe mental health and addictions services grounded in harm reduction, rather than an abstinence-only framework.

Tips for Torontonians

  • If you want to contribute to a safer city, donate to organizations that work on addressing the root causes of crime.
  • Support women-led and women-focused organizations that have the experience and expertise to help victims of violence feel safe and welcome.
  • Get involved in advocacy efforts to improve conditions for victims of crime, as well as to support the rehabilitation of offenders who are often victims themselves.

Community Insights

As many worked and studied at home, travel by both car and transit cratered during the pandemic. Transit ridership still remains a fraction of pre-pandemic rates, creating financial difficulties for agencies that could take years for recovery, particularly if travel patterns don’t change.

Policy Makers and Donors

01

In devising new funding models for transit, do not penalize those for whom ridership is essential.

02

Continue to expand cycling infrastructure, with an emphasis on the parts of the city that lack it, specifically the inner suburbs, and with an eye to creating transportation routes from home to work and back.

03

Consider unrestricted operating support for public and active transit advocacy groups, especially with the interests of low-income residents in mind and for those supporting embedding universal mobility in city infrastructure.

04

Increase access to bicycles and bicycle repairs for low-income residents.

05

Close the digital divide by investing in more universal access to the internet and digital devices.

06

Pilot free Wi-Fi in public parks.

Tips for Torontonians

  • Lend your voice to supporting public petitions and policy changes that protect public transportation for those who need it most. For example, consider supporting The Fair Pass program that will be debated before the end of 2021.
  • Support advocacy organizations working for widespread public transit. Current financial losses cannot undermine the value of a strong, accessible transportation system.
  • Leave your car at home as much as possible.

Community Insights

Housing prices have long been unaffordable for most Toronto residents, and their continued rise in 2020 led to Toronto being labelled the second most expensive housing market in North America for local buyers. The rental market also has a long history of unaffordability, but in 2020 rents dropped somewhat for the first time in many years as large numbers of people left the city. Despite the decrease, there are virtually no vacant units in the city that are affordable for lower-income residents.

Policy Makers and Donors

01

Advance funding and innovative financing tools to enable more nonprofits to acquire and manage deeply affordable units.

02

Increase access to more timely data on rent arrears and evictions, both in the short and long term, along with better tracking of how communities that are being marginalized are coping financially.

03

Put in place stopgaps to avoid the risk of mass evictions.

04

Support research and advocacy for policy solutions such as revised rent controls, inclusionary zoning and others designed to lower housing costs and protect them for lower-income residents.

05

Embrace housing as a human right by putting the needs of the homeless and the precariously housed first.

06

Recognize that accessing and keeping housing is predicated on a range of factors, including employment, income supports, ability and mental health, and fund the wraparound supports.

07

Prioritize mixed income in new housing developments.

Tips for Torontonians

  • Support with money and time the ability of community organizations to own and lease property.
  • Consider providing rental housing in your home or lowering the rent you charge to make it more affordable.
  • Use your influence to advocate for systemic changes to reverse the runaway costs of housing.

Community Insights

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