The growing gap between rich and poor in urban centres around the world is a global phenomenon. In Toronto, this can be attributed to a variety of factors, most significant of which is the rising cost of housing. Since 1990, overall apartment rents in Toronto have increased one-and-a-half times faster than inflation.
The United Way’s 2007 report Losing Ground revealed the persistent growth in the number of disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Toronto; ones marked by high levels of poverty and insecure employment. Since the report was released, the global economy tanked, meaning the situation has only been compounded.
Gillian Mason, the United Way’s senior vice-president of strategic initiatives and community partnerships, says the report found 13 neighbourhoods throughout the GTA with a concentration of poverty, which the United Way has deemed priority neighbourhoods. “The report very depressingly shows that families have been declining in these neighbourhoods since 1990,” she says.
As a result, the United Way’s 150 member agencies, including the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, Neighbourhood Link and Skills for Change, are currently doubling their efforts to respond to significant demands in job seeking.
Aside from taking on initiatives to provide safe, healthy places for community members to raise their families, dispatching more youth outreach workers to priority neighbourhoods, expanding child care in these communities and increasing social programs for residents, many agencies like JVS are offering new free clinics on job seeking skills, financial literacy, stress management and peer support. “We’re trying to do more with less,” says Mason, adding, “We’re approaching donors for in-kind gifts, not just cash.”
Family Service Toronto — an agency that offers counselling, community development and public education programs — is seeing more and more cases of families where one or both parents have lost their jobs.
The city’s food banks are also seeing an increase in clients. “We keep seeing an increase year over year of 20 per cent,” says Michael Oliphant of The Daily Bread Food Bank.
“We actually have a food drive on right now. You can drop off food at any fire hall or Metro grocery store in the GTA.”
The food will be sorted by Daily Bread and then delivered to the 160 member agencies around the city that run food banks and meal programs.