Liz Jantzen, Board Chair and Jason Altenberg, CEO
The past year has presented many challenges, much grief and too many losses. But there have also been moments of hope, innovation and strength.
SRCHC has had to adjust and adapt its operations several times through different waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Support for our priority populations and communities required timely responses; staff had to work nimbly and make in-the-moment decisions to benefit those who needed essential services and supports. Many aspects of the work, including health care and the maintenance of social connections, have had to shift online. The year’s challenges have been met by stepping up and building innovative partnerships across the organization. We needed to address gaps in food security, mental health, cold weather supplies, digital equity and distribution of harm reduction supplies. Our transportation program has seen a significant expansion in order to drop off food, personal protective equipment and other supplies.
Public health restrictions to prevent coronavirus spread, along with an increasingly poisonous drug supply, have contributed to an overdose crisis in Toronto. A recent report by the coroner’s office revealed that, during the pandemic in 2020, the number of opioid-related deaths among people experiencing homelessness has more than doubled. This year we launched one of Ontario’s first programs for safer opioid supply; it replaces toxic street drugs with prescription opiates, and funding is in place for the next two years.
Also this year, we marked many milestones for our Senior Active Living centres. Our Tamil program celebrated its 20th anniversary and our Bengali program marked 13 years. Both groups, along with our Chinese and English speaking groups, still connect weekly over Zoom.
East Toronto Health Partners (our Ontario Health Team in East Toronto) and our local network of community health centres were strengthened to provide support for the organizations, clients, and communities we serve. We worked collaboratively on outbreak management and crisis support; we are now supporting vaccine rollout and ensuring equitable community access. Much of our collaborative work with our priority populations has focused on congregate living settings (shelters) and high-density neighbourhoods where the risk of catching COVID and being hospitalized is disproportionately high. We are beginning to look forward to recovery and the transformations in policy and practice necessary to create equal, healthier communities.
This year, more than ever, we see how the social determinants of health are linked to the legacy of colonialism, racism, patriarchy and capitalism. This year we have worked on Truth and Reconciliation recommendations and trained staff in Indigenous cultural safety. We’ve made it a priority to start training and workshops on anti-Black racism, as well as enhancing race-based data collection so that we can accurately track health outcomes. We are focused on creating better conditions to support a strong safety net for marginalized communities, with a focus on structural racism.
This year our community has come forward with essential resources to meet the needs of our clients and to support our frontline staff. Despite the challenges and losses, we have seen community and partners come forward like never before, and we feel an immense sense of gratitude. We will continue to provide access and fill gaps where our system has failed our most vulnerable. We will amplify policies and practices that result in health equity and sustainability. And we will demand better than merely “getting back to normal.”