North York Women’s Shelter’s new facilities bring opportunities

In spring of 2019, North York Women’s Shelter (NYWS) will open the doors to its newly renovated facilities that are set to be kid friendly, culturally competent, and include a community hub. NYWS is nestled in between Downsview Park and Sheppard West station – making it connected to a local scene and accessible to the rest of the city’s resources.

Established in 1984, NYWS continues to be a safe place for women and children impacted by violence. As research on how to best help survivors of gendered violence advanced, NYWS took federal funding opportunities to redesign and renovate the facility to better serve their residents.

Executive Director, Mohini Datta-Ray, described the new shelter as “future oriented” with a focus on providing survivors a holistic approach to healing and giving women the tools they need to take the next steps in their lives.

It will be a 24,000 square feet shelter with 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms with 30 beds, with the capacity for an additional 10 beds if their operational budget targets are met. This is a huge improvement from the 3,000 square feet shelter with only six bedrooms and three bathrooms for 30 beds that left residents crowded and prevented necessary programming.

Traditionally, women’s shelters are at a confidential and discrete location. Shelters are usually intended to be outside the purview of the community and to exist in isolation of the neighbourhood.

“It’s a new model – we’re breaking the paradigm. The model is that we are both a shelter and a community service hub,” Datta-Ray explained. The community hub will service not only those in the shelter but women within the community who need a safe space and cannot leave their situations.

The shelter itself will be built to accommodate children, have a kennel for residents’ dogs, and a wood-burning oven for women of different cultures to bake bread. Its new community hub will have partnerships with different groups like the Black Creek Community Health Centre, Black Creek Community Farm, and other service groups to ensure that clients can access the resources they need.

As Toronto becomes more expensive and funding for ending violence against women continues to be erratic and dependent on governments, it is important to not only give survivors the resources they need to survive but also to thrive.

The new NYWS has a large 1000 square-foot multipurpose room that can be a space where women can self-organize and be political. Alongside providing services, NYWS aims to foster a peer-support system so women can be politically active and demand more from their politicians to enact lasting change.

“We realized that you can build 40 thousand shelters but you will never address the issue because you are just continuing to address the symptom of the problem,” Datta-Ray explained. The new space will help empower residents to advocate for institutional changes to end violence against women.

NDP keeps pushing for auto insurance reform

Over 150 local residents packed an auto insurance town hall meeting I hosted in November to pressure this government to bring down the unfair auto insurance rates we pay in our community.

The community meeting was part of a series of auto insurance town halls Ontario’s NDP is holding across the GTA, each packed with people demanding change.

Our community continues to pay some of the highest auto insurance rates in this country even though we do not have the highest number of accidents on our streets.  In fact, there are even some in this community who are unable to drive because the insurance is simply unaffordable.

Ontario’s NDP has been fighting against auto insurance postal code discrimination for years but the Liberals, and now Doug Ford’s Conservative government, sided with big auto insurance corporations over the people.

In 2012, former NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh (and current federal NDP leader) tabled a private member’s bill that would have ended postal code discrimination, but both the Conservatives and the Liberals voted against it, and the bill failed. Later, the NDP extracted a promise from the provincial Liberals to reduce auto insurance rates by 15 per cent, but the Liberals simply broke their promise.

Most recently in October 2018, an NDP bill by MPP Gurratan Singh who attended our community meeting, called for auto insurance companies to treat the GTA as a single postal code when determining insurance rates.

Unfortunately, Doug Ford’s Conservative government voted against this NDP bill that aimed to bring down insurance rates for drivers. What’s more, one of the first things the Ford government did when taking office was to pave the way for a nine per cent hike to auto insurance rates.

Our community is tired of being taken advantage of by auto insurance corporations and deserve to be treated fairly.  I will continue to keep up the fight.

Teach2Learn in the Latinx Community

Teach2Learn (T2L) is a program focused on the Latinx community in Toronto. T2L began with a group of parents trying to encourage their children to pursue higher education. One problem our community faces is that as immigrants we work and focus on economic stability and this at times leads us to deprioritize our education. That is one of the reasons why the drop-out rate for the Latinx community is one of the highest in Toronto at 40%.

Encouraging and working to ensure members from our community stay in school is a top priority for T2L. Together with the Conoser Scholarship Fund group, the charity organization that supports our organization and other valuable community programs, T2L is dedicated to finding funds for projects addressing the needs of our community.

This year we managed to obtain funds from Trillium. We used this to fund programs in three different locations on a weekly basis helping youth and parents navigate the school system. One program provides newly arrived Latinx parents with workshops that provide assistance navigating the TDSB system. This series of workshops gives guidance and support to Spanish-speaking parents through new information and tools designed to effectively enrich their role as parents and build their capacity to teach other members of their community and give them tools to effectively parent in the TDSB school system.

Another program T2L collaborates with is Academic Youth Success (ASY). It aims to bring high school students together with the goal of expanding youth’s community awareness and broadening their personal experiences. ASY focuses on character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, art and cultural experiences, and most importantly, a secure space in which youth can feel a sense of belonging.

Our programs are absolutely free of cost and we do our best to make them as accessible as possible to all youth. Youth who choose to be a part of our programs are able to network with like-minded individuals, meet community and business leaders, and are able to obtain recommendation letters for their commitments and efforts in the programs.

The leaders of this program are also young members from our community who have experienced the needs as newcomers. These individuals lead the tutoring program where children practice their native language and receive help completing their homework. They benefit the community and we are always seeking volunteers. Reach out if you are interested – even if you are not a newcomer this is an opportunity to exchange knowledge and build a community that is united and strong.

Learn more at teach2learn.ca.