What's Going On at Social Planning Toronto?

2018 was a challenging year for Social Planning Toronto. Yet despite a leadership change, our small but mighty organization continued providing sector leadership and putting our noses to the grindstone in communities.

With a difficult year behind us, a new year upon us, and a new Executive Director to lead us (click here for a message from Devika Shah), it seems an appropriate time to share a few highlights of our community planning and research work over the past year.

 

Click on the headers below ("Research & Policy Analysis Highlights" or "Community Capacity & Partnership Building Highlights") to expand/collapse sections.

 

Research & Policy Analysis Highlights »

In 2018 our research focused on providing communities and organizations with the facts they need to make positive change. Here are a few of the standout findings we highlighted last year.

1.

84% of Toronto's Indigenous children live in poverty

The 2018 Toronto Child & Family Poverty Report drew on newly released census data and the “Our Health Counts Toronto” study of Indigenous peoples in the city (the source of the stat illustrated above) to reveal a disturbing picture of child and family poverty: pockets of poverty exist in every single ward in Toronto, and the highest rates are among Indigenous, racialized, and newcomer families.

The report was released as Toronto residents were getting set to go to the polls. Its authors* called on all City Council candidates to commit to bold action in response to the pervasive hardships experienced by families in our city.

* This report was produced in partnership with Well Living House, the Centre for Urban Health Solutions, and the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital; the Community Development and Prevention Program of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto; Colour of Poverty – Colour of ChangeOntario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants; and Family Service Toronto's Campaign 2000

2.

Over a third of Toronto residents who do not speak English live in poverty.

 

Over 130,000 people living in Toronto — almost 5% of the population — are unable to have a conversation in English or French. Women, seniors, and residents with a Chinese mother tongue are significant subgroups of this population.

Talking Access & Equity: A Profile of City of Toronto Residents Who Speak Neither Official Language delved into the demographics of this population and made policy and program recommendations to support the social, cultural, and economic inclusion of these residents, who have high poverty and unemployment rates. 

3.

To meet key Council-approved strategies and service plans, the 2018 city budget needed further investments of:

  • $36 million in the 2018 city operating budget and
  • $35 million to double Council’s commitment to new affordable rental housing development (approaching the 10th year of a 10-year commitment and far short of its goal, Council needed to double its commitment to even begin catching up)

Promises, Promises: City Council Commitments & the 2018 Budget documented the systematic underfunding of commitments Council had made. The report presented funding options to meet these commitments and called for the City’s budget process to be more transparent and accountable on critical issues affecting Toronto.

 

4.

Before the provincial and municipal elections, we released fact sheets on issues including housing, jobs, post-secondary education, transit, child care, and poverty. They highlighted the ways in which Ontarians and Torontonians were struggling and proposed ways for voters to raise them with candidates for public office.

Ryerson University's Democratic Engagement Exchange partnered with us to produce both the provincial and municipal fact sheets, and Apathy is Boring partnered with both of us on the provincial fact sheets.

Both sets of fact sheets (and translations into multiple languages) were used to engage voters face-to-face by our own planners (at all-candidate debates, for example) and by the Democratic Engagement Exchange (at their "voter pop-ups" across the city). The municipal versions also supported Commitment TO Community's Prosperity Platform Campaign (more on that campaign below).

 

In 2018 our researchers also provided insight into the new provincial government's policy moves, such as their rent control and social assistance plans. 

On Thursday, November 15, the provincial government released its Fall Economic Statement and introduced Bill 57, its budget bill. Included in the bill were plans to scrap rent controls on any new or newly converted residential units, thus breaking the Progressive Conservatives' promise to renters in the leadup to the provincial election.

A week later, in a speech high on platitudes but low on details, Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod revealed the government’s plans to overhaul the social assistance system with "compassionate" reforms.

Our analysis showed that these moves would leave social assistance recipients living in deep poverty and threaten tens of thousands of tenant households

 

So what does the research team have planned for 2019?

The 2019 City Budget Watch blog:

Beth Wilson's "City Budget Watch" blog is back for the 2019 budget process. Our lead on policy and research, Beth shares up-to-date reports and analysis on each step of the budget process, from public launch to final votes. 

 

 

Because a new Council was elected last year, the 2019 Budget launched a little later than usual, at the end of January (Monday, January 28). 

Don't miss out on Beth's invaluable analysis! Sign up for updates to the City Budget Watch blog »

 

More census research:

In 2019 we'll complete our Census research series, which focuses on social and demographic trends impacting Toronto residents and the community and public policy solutions needed to support an equitable, liveable, and inclusive city for all.

This year's reports will focus on seniors, millennials, public transit, and public education.

While you wait, why not explore the previous reports in the series?

 

Social exclusion research:

In 2019 our research staff will continue to work with academic partners on the “Tracing and Addressing Social Exclusion in Canada” (TASC) research project.

TASC is a multi-year study, led by York University’s Luann Good Gingrich and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Dr. Good Gingrich is an associate director at the Centre for Refugee Studies and associate professor in the School of Social Work. The TASC project uses large, complex, quantitative data sources to examine economic, spatial and socio-political forms of social exclusion.

 

A community hub "how to":

In partnership with the SPACE Coalition, SPT will publish "How to hub: Community hub development toolkit." It's a practical guide to support residents, parents, and community leaders in navigating the initial stages of a community hub (or other community development initiative). 

 

 

Community Engagement & Planning Highlights »

Our community engagement work increased skills, knowledge, and resource development in local communities, and our community planning, research, and communications capacities helped our partners respond to critical challenges facing Toronto residents. 

SPT also played a leadership role in coalitions and partnerships (such as Commitment TO Community and Faith in the City) that promoted social justice, equity, and engagement. Such co-operation built local leadership, amplified the voices and perspectives of residents often excluded from public policymaking, and brought new programs and resources to communities.

Here are some highlights from the past year.

 

Interfaith action for poverty reduction

Faith in the City started 2018 with two big concerns.

The first was inadequate shelter and housing, despite a brutally cold winter, for our most vulnerable neighbours: people experiencing homelessness. FITC held a mock soup kitchen at City Hall with partners Out of the Cold to encourage City Council to act. Eventually the City committed to providing 1,000 new beds.

The second? A City budget process that asks us to pit poverty reduction actions against each other. In a creative response, FITC members held a "Hunger Games" enactment at City Hall. In the end, we didn't have to choose between actions, but the City's investment was meagre at best (except in transit, with the introduction of reduced fares for people on social assistance and a two-hour transfer). 

Pressure on municipal and provincial election candidates

Social Planning Toronto built civic capacity by engaging hundreds of residents in municipal and provincial all-candidates meetings and election-related workshops in communities across Toronto.

In the months leading up to the October 22 election, Social Planning Toronto, Faith in the City, and C2C engaged residents, politicians, and other groups and coalitions with the Prosperity Platform campaign — while being forced to embrace mid-campaign ward boundary changes imposed by the Province.

The Prosperity Platform campaign outlined a vision for prosperity and pushed candidates running for Mayor and Councillor to pledge that, if elected, they would fully fund and implement Toronto’s poverty reduction strategy, TO Prosperity. Targeting outreach to wards in which councillors had poor voting records on progressive policies, we:

  • distributed 5,000 postcards to residents at town halls and ward meetings across the city, 
  • initiated local-level dialogues at events and community forums through a team of six community animators,
  • created video stories of prosperity through a community lens, and
  • gathered signed Prosperity Pledges from 133 of the 277 registered candidates (including Mayor John Tory and most of the elected councillors), and shared the results in an interactive map:

 



Map by Sean Marshall, seanmarshall.ca

 

SPT also provided input to and endorsed the “TO Housing Pledge,” another campaign targeting ward and mayoral candidates. This campaign asked candidates to pledge to take five key steps to address the city's housing challenges. A Mayoral Forum gave voters a chance to learn which candidates were committed to making Torontonians’ right to housing a reality. Over half (14) of the new Council's members took the TO Housing pledge. 

Provincial election candidates were also targeted for housing pledges by the Power in Community Coalition and Voices of Scarborough. With our help the groups camp encouraged candidates to publicly sign a housing pledge at an all-candidates town hall on the housing crises in Scarborough. They also created profiles of Scarborough (using 2016 census data) and shared them post-election with newly elected MPPs to introduce Scarborough as an under-served area and suggest ways to improve.

After the municipal election, we gathered representatives from groups delivering services and advocating for a better city to strategize around the City’s 2019 budget. We'll work with existing partners and new players to hold Council accountable on many fronts.

 

And tons more...

  • SPT is one of four partners in the Toronto South Local Immigration Partnership (TSLIP). Along with St. Stephen’s Community House, Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture, and WoodGreen, we develop and implement local settlement strategies and coordinate service delivery for newcomers, immigrants, and refugees. In the past year, we:
    • used census date to create maps on immigration and shared them with our network and members,
    • organized a forum, targeted to funders and service providers, that showcased the benefits of community-based mental health supports and why sustained funding is needed,
    • assessed opportunities for improving the accreditation and licensing process for internationally trained engineers and psychologists, and 
    • submitted a position statement to the Province on Ontario’s sex ed curriculum, emphasizing the importance of a modern curriculum that considers contemporary issues like online dating, gender identity, and consent, especially for immigrant families.
  • The Middle Childhood Matters Coalition Toronto brought together 100 parents and service providers for a "Helping Families Thrive" launch party to celebrate the completion of its Parents Matter Project (which developed 15 original learning sessions, 5 educational videos, and a new website to help parents of kids aged 6-12 better support their children's social and emotional well-being). 
  • In partnership with the Coalition for Alternatives to Academic Streaming, we convened 30+ community organizations and resident leaders to strategize around ending the practice of academic streaming in Ontario schools. Streaming pushes high school students into academic or practical streams, a decision that has lifelong implications.
  • In partnership with the SPACE Coalition, we held a "How to hub: Community hub development" forum. The How to Hub toolkit mentioned above was piloted at this event and attendees' feedback was incorporated into the document.  
  • For the Scarborough Executive Directors Network (SEDN), we helped organize a meeting with Scarborough’s newly elected MPPs and staff and board members of social service agencies. 
  • As secretariat of the Toronto Nonprofit Network, Social Planning Toronto collaborated with the City to begin planning and organizing a sector recognition day, the first of six commitments in the City's For Public Benefit policy adopted in 2017. The policy is meant to help acknowledge and strengthen the relationship between City agencies, boards, corporations and Divisions with Toronto's "core" community community-based not-for-profit sector.
  • SPT played a trusteeship and capacity-building role for the City of Toronto's Neighbourhood Grants program. In 2018, we trusteed 72 resident-led groups and ran 23 trainings to support two cohorts of grantees. In June, 120 grantees and their mentors, City staff, and elected officials came together in the Rotunda at City Hall to recognize and celebrate these resident leaders' efforts to make change in their neighbourhoods and create opportunities for residents to come together (photo below). 

Photo by Jalani Morgan

 

 

So there you have it — just some of what we here at Social Planning Toronto have gotten up to over the past year. In 2019 we will continue to connect with those often not heard enough in our city, and raise their voices to those in leadership.

We want to extend our gratitude for your support for, and participation in, our civic actions and our vision. Thank you for being part of our journey. Over the next year we're doing some deep soul searching on our focus for the future, and we want your input. 

 

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