Pay It Forward

The Pay It Forward fundraising campaign was launched to provide our most marginalized clients with winter supplies and clothing.  

Due to COVID-19, most programs and drop-ins have closed. This winter, people living on the streets have nowhere to go to stay warm and no access to free hot meals. Many of our clients and volunteers live on fixed incomes. More than 50% of our clients live on $25,000/year or less. According to the Toronto Foundation, approximately 30% of people in Toronto are struggling to pay for essentials like rent, food and utilities. The idea behind Pay It Forward is to recognize the involvement of those of our clients who have been volunteers with the Centre’s programs (such as community clean-ups, markets, etc.), and to urge those who can to donate and “pay it forward.”

Between 2013 and 2018, the number of people using Toronto shelters increased by 69% (from 4,806 to 8,134). Some people are waiting for weeks to get into shelters and others are avoiding them, fearful of catching the virus in congregate settings.

The Fallout Report (published by the Toronto Foundation in late-2020) reported that the city’s shelter system was operating at capacity and approximately 2,000 people were living in outdoor encampments. Many people choose to live outdoors due to COVID-19 because they feel it is safer than congregate living settings.

In East Toronto, we know that there are significant health and social disparities among our 300,000 residents and 21 different neighbourhoods. Over the past year, we have seen people come together to support one another in ways we have never seen before. This crisis is not yet over and will impact many people for years to come

For more information or if you would like to donate, click here. 


Harm Reduction Satellite Sites

Satellite sites, community access points that provide resources and services at a local level, are a critical resource. Many people think of first responders as Emergency Medical Service (EMS) workers. However, first responders in the opiate crisis are largely other people who use drugs. Satellite sites are usually homes or places in communities, relying on natural networks, that provide people who use drugs with sterile syringes, harm reduction equipment and naloxone kits. COUNTERfit (an SRCHC program started in 1998 by the late drug-user advocate Raffi Balian) employed a number of strategies to deliver a range of harm reduction supplies to our community. One strategy involved asking volunteers from the service-user base to do secondary distribution from their homes. The model worked well and SRCHC was able to get funding to pay people with lived experience for their community leadership.

Satellite sites are informal services where people who use drugs can access safer-use supplies, naloxone, information and training. In some cases, they can access a safer space to use. Since community health centres employ the resident operators, they can link clients directly to other services, including drug checking, primary care, HIV and hepatitis C testing, treatment, counselling and more.

Last year, together with Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, we were pleased to release a guidebook about satellite sites called, “Harm Reduction Satellite Sites: A guide for operating harm reduction hubs from the homes of people who use drugs.”


Poly-Seniors Project

Medication Safety Ambassadors

SRCHC is implementing the Poly-Seniors Project (PSP), funded by Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors program. The project’s focus is safe medication use for seniors. It aims at supporting local seniors in the community and teaches how to prevent medication errors. Examples of a medication error are, taking a medication at the wrong time or taking too much or too little. Many seniors take five or more medications (called polypharmacy) and this can put people at risk of harm.

The objectives of the project are to promote volunteerism among seniors (and others), expand awareness of elder medication misuse, and support social participation and inclusion of seniors. Supported by pharmacists from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada, seniors are involved in the program’s planning, design and development to help make the information more interesting, relevant and useful. Information about medication safety is available to staff and community members in English and also available in Chinese, Punjabi and Spanish. The senior’s group will be trained (online via Zoom) as medication safety ambassadors, and participating seniors will receive pandemic care packages sent to their homes. If you experience a medication error, click here to report it.

For more information or to book senior ambassadors to speak to your program, contact Shirley Cheng-Kerr at 416-461-3577, ext. 348.



Harmony Hall Highlights & Looking Forward

COVID-19 did not stop the Harmony Hall communities from coming together. After a shift from in-person events due to COVID-19, some accomplishments included:

  • A variety of virtual programs for seniors such as group dance, fitness, sing-along sessions and technical support services available in English, Tamil, Bengali & Chinese.
  • Celebrations of special events such as Pooja, Diwali & Christmas.
  • The official launch of Harmony Community Food Centre and its new programs, including an affordable produce market, weekly community meal, virtual kitchen programs and youth programs.
  • Emergency support including food access assistance (grocery delivery, hot meals, grocery gift cards).
  • A transportation partnership with Michael Garron Hospital and SRCHC for COVID-related needs such as patient transport and food delivery.

What we’re looking forward to in 2021

Harmony Community Food Centre looks forward to addressing food access needs by connecting with more members of the community and offering additional educational programs. We are also excited about partnering with George Webster Elementary School to set up a pollinator garden and school garden.

As well, the Seniors Active Living Centre will continue to provide virtual programs, including new activities, to keep seniors active and help to maintain health. Whether it’s connecting via telephone or online, our goal is to reduce isolation, increase engagement and stay connected.


COVID-19 Case Management Support

Since early November, SRCHC has been providing comprehensive case management support to people recently diagnosed with COVID-19 through Michael Garron Hospital and its pop-up testing sites. With surge funding received through Michael Garron Hospital, existing staff were redeployed and two new nurses were hired to support the project. East End CHC and Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Organization/Health Access Thorncliffe Park are also project partners.

The project’s aim is to provide assistance to people who have challenges with the required isolation and quarantine periods due to their social isolation and/or poverty. Case managers provide clinical support and symptom management, as well as coordinate delivery of fresh groceries, offer system navigation and make referrals to other services. Helping people to cope with the anxiety and stigma of a COVID diagnosis is also a big part of the work, as is support around grief and loss.

From November 2, 2020 to January 20, 2021, the project received 250 referrals and supported 1,067 individuals. Each referral has an average of five other family members who are also supported. Many people live in communities, like Thorncliffe Park, Flemingdon Park and Warden Woods, that have been hard-hit by COVID and referrals are closely linked to new and emerging outbreak or hot spot areas. As a result, the case management team works intensively in many neighbourhoods to provide both support and education.


COVID-19 Pandemic Guidelines for Mental Health Support of Racialized Women At Risk of Gender Based Violence

COVID19 Guidelines for mental health support of racialized women at risk of Gender Based Violence – Synthesis Report

Multidisciplinary Team: Nazilla Khanlou (Principal Investigator) and Dr. Andrew Ssawe (Principal Knowledge User) with Co-Investigators:  Yvonne Bohr, Jennifer Connolly, Iris Epstein, Thumeka Mgwigwi, Soheila Pashang, and Collaborators: Farah Ahmad, Negar Alamdar and Sajedeh Zahraei

Project Coordinator: Luz Maria Vazquez

Funding Source:  Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Operating Grant: Knowledge Synthesis: COVID-19 in Mental Health & Substance Use

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender-based violence against women and girls.  Statistics from across the world show a drastic increase in violence against women and girls during the current COVID-19 pandemic.  The United Nations has referred to this significant social and public health issue as the “shadow pandemic”. We know that violence against women results in high rates of mortality and morbidity and that is also associated with mental health problems – psychological distress, depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders.

The social determinants of health factors place racialized women and girls at an increased disadvantage during the pandemic. Practice and policy must address the structural determinants of the mental health of racialized women at risk of gender-based violence during COVID-19 pandemic.

In Spring of this year we received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to conduct a rapid knowledge synthesis for our project titled “COVID-19 pandemic guidelines for mental health support of racialized women at risk of gender-based violence.” This was an academic-community collaboration between Principal Investigator Dr. Nazilla Khanlou (York University) and Principal Knowledge User Dr. Andrew Ssawe (South Riverdale Community Health Centre).

Our project has multiple outcomes* that knowledge users can utilize to support trauma informed mental health care program planning, delivery, and evaluation during the COVID19 pandemic’s response and recovery phase.

We present multi-level recommendations and best practices for equity informed mental health promotion and care. These include individual, psychological and situational (micro); institutional, organizational and agency-based (meso); and structural, systemic (macro) levels.  We emphasize an upstream approach to public mental health support, presenting the recommendations from macro to meso to micro levels.

Using information from our project’s tools, decision-makers can assess potential venues to re-direct funding and programming to address inequities in the social determinants of mental health and related health disparities.

* Project Outcomes:

  1. Knowledge Synthesis Report: Click here
  2. Information Brief: Click here
  3. Infographic: Click here
  4. Toolkit: Click here
  5. Policy Brief: Click here

For more information visit:  York University


Harmony Community Food Centre Launch

The Harmony Community Food Centre is Launched!

The seed was planted and we saw the first blossoms of Harmony Community Food Centre emerge. A partner site of Community Food Centres (CFC) Canada, the program’s focus is on addressing food insecurity in the neighbourhoods surrounding 2 Gower St. The CFC is designed to be a place to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food for all.

September 1 was the official launch as the thirteenth community food centre partner site in Canada. We are  proud to be part of this national movement which works toward equitable, dignified access to good food for all. Thank you to our fearless partners at Community Food Centres Canada, all local partners, funders and the community of East York for welcoming us. Special thanks to MP Julie Dabrusin, MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, the P. & L. Odette Charitable Foundation and Community Food Centres Canada for celebrating with us.

We’re making connections

Over the past year, we conducted a community consultation to get to know our neighbourhoods and fellow advocates in the O’Connor-Parkview, Taylor-Massey and Oakridge areas. We talked to residents, local schools, parents, seniors, librarians, youth workers, settlement workers, service providers, health providers, church leaders and more.

From our conversations, we developed a framework for program design: a focus on low-income and marginalized communities; addressing barriers to access; inviting participants and those with lived experience to co-design; using a team approach to enable cross-organizational resources; and building partnership with community members and organizations for greater impact. We began the work of building relationships and trust within the community and, at SRCHC, we began the work of building creative collaborations across the organization.

Inviting the community into our kitchen

A beautiful thing about the new Harmony Community Food Centre is that the location at 2 Gower St. opened its doors to the community beyond the existing seniors programs. We welcomed neighbours of all ages into our space and kitchen through nutrition and food skill workshops, community kitchens, kids’ cooking programs, garden design and special events. Our kitchen became a new hub for knowledge exchange, social connection and delicious food to share!

Food access during a pandemic and beyond

The COVID-19 pandemic intensified existing gaps in our system and vulnerable populations found themselves in greater distress and uncertainty around food access. We sprang into immediate action. With emergency funding from Community Food Centres Canada and United Way, we were able to quickly expand our existing food security work and redeploy staff to plan and distribute grocery gift cards, home delivered meals, takeaway meals and produce boxes. Those we served were able to access supports in a dignified manner with few barriers.

The pandemic food access response could not have happened without strong partnerships with funders, local businesses and local networks. The challenges facing priority populations will not disappear, and we are keeping our sleeves rolled up. We will continue to serve and amplify the voices of the marginalized until all are safely housed, economically secure, socially empowered, healthy, and can nourish themselves with joy and abundance. And this feedback tells us that the work is vitally important.

“I found the program and support very helpful due to being non-status and health issues that make it very difficult to work. I have no income and would like online training to get regular work. The gift cards helped manage what I needed for my baby and myself.” – Rose (34 years old, new single mother, non-status, immunocompromised)

“I had something to eat guaranteed, at least one hot meal a day. Bottom line this thing helped me a lot it put me over the fence (of happiness). Before if I did not have food I did not know if I could make it.” – Theo (62 years old, lives alone, on ODSP, living with a disability).

Our Community Is Your Community

I’d like to comment on my observations as a new harm reduction worker at South Riverdale CHC and its surrounding community.

Harm Reduction is a philosophy about the human rights of people who use drugs. It says that people who use drugs deserve all the same things that everyone else enjoys: safe housing, health care, food security, and employment.

The work we do is not just for those who access SRCHC programs, but also for the larger community. Often, and especially in neighbourhoods where there is a sharp divide between people who have privilege and those who don’t, there tends to be an “us and them” mentality. When you don’t live on the streets without shelter or food, it can be hard to understand what that experience is like. But many of our service users have been living in this area for decades. In fact, South Riverdale CHC has been serving this community for over 40 years and has been providing resources and programming to people who use drugs for over 20 years. Our service users share the same sidewalks and air as folks who are well-resourced. Our clients are humans just like you.

In harm reduction, some practical strategies include educating our clients, other service providers and the local residents about safer drug use, overdose prevention, and preventing HIV and Hep C transmission. The harm reduction kits we give out are not only for distribution of sterile needles or pipes and the associated equipment to use drugs more safely, but also a way to help engage with folks who are regularly excluded from mainstream health services and housing, and who are overrepresented in child welfare, prison and other systems.

Having said that, part of the safety of the community is people properly disposing of their equipment. We facilitate that with daily needle patrols throughout the neighbourhood and by providing a yellow secure-disposal bin at the west side of the building. Pre-COVID, we organized several annual community clean-ups during which staff and volunteers cleaned up garbage, as well as drug use equipment, from local parks and laneways.

If you have any questions about harm reduction, please call The Fixed Site at (416) 461-1925, ext. 235. If you have any concerns or suggestions, please call the COUNTERfit program coordinator at ext. 388.

And please remember that “our community is your community!

(These impressions are offered by a new SRCHC staff member.)


Our commitment and actions to address Anti-Black Racism

We stand in solidarity with Black Communities and Black leaders in Toronto and across North America, we will not be silent about the continued discrimination, systemic racism and disproportionate harm faced by Black people. White supremacy and the legacies of colonization, slavery, structural inequality and systemic discrimination profoundly impact the lives of Black people. Black people have long talked about disproportionate violence and deaths as a result of policing. In 2018, an Ontario Human Rights Commission study found that Black people are 20 times more likely than other races to face lethal force, and as a result, be injured or die at the hands of Police. Not only are we no longer remaining silent; we are now urging our allies to join us in taking immediate action.

The Toronto Board of Health unanimously voted to declare Anti-Black Racism a public health crisis. Our action plan on beginning to address Anti-Black Racism will include:

  • Calling for the defunding the Police and re-prioritizing the City’s budget to address the roots of violence and Anti-Black racism
  • Finding training and capacity-building supports to assist individuals and organizations in learning about Anti-Black Racism
  • Developing and implementing an anti-bias policy for SRCHC, which will be shared
  • Collaborating with partners on communications  to help amplify messages and actions
  • Collecting race-based health data and identifying health outcomes for Black populations
  • Building common accountability measurements for management/boards in support of Black leadership

Building a Harm Reduction and Substance Use Continuum of Care

We are in the midst of increased overdose fatalities and the restructuring of services for folks using the homeless shelter and services systems with the call for the embedding of harm reduction services everywhere.  This moment was used to request that the Toronto Region enable us to release this review report as it holds great insights on strategies for the work we are currently doing. To view the report and the full press release, please click the links below:

REPORT RELEASE Building Harm Reduction Substance Use Continuum of Care Review

Harm Reduction Continuum of Care TCLHIN March 2018