Since February 2017, seventeen Torontonians have been using their personal lived experience with the realities, conditions and impacts of living with poverty to inform the effective development, implementation, and monitoring of the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Hundreds of Toronto residents provided input on how the Lived Experience Advisory Group (the LEAG) should work, including composition and terms of membership, frequency and location of meetings, communications, audience and tactics, and supports required. More than 350 residents applied to be part of the first LEAG. The selected members come from communities across the city and have diverse experiences with poverty and intricate knowledges to share.

Over the course of a four-year term (2017-2020), LEAG members will work together with City divisions and community partners to address the actions outlined in the Poverty Reduction Strategy. The mandate of the LEAG focuses on advocacy, education and awareness, and monitoring and evaluation:

  1. Advocacy
    • Provide insight and feedback on City of Toronto policies, programs and services
    • Improve access to social services across the City of Toronto
  2. Education and Awareness
    • Educate and inform City staff about the realities of poverty in Toronto and the diversity of experiences of those struggling with it
    • Share information about the Poverty Reduction Strategy and the LEAG with City divisions, the private sector, community agencies and residents
    • Act as a conduit between communities and the City on poverty reduction activities
  3. Monitoring and Evaluation
    • Participate in the monitoring of Poverty Reduction Strategy actions

LEAG Members 2017-2020

The LEAG includes residents who reflect the diversity of the city. In selecting members for the LEAG, consideration was given to ensure good representation from equity-seeking groups. LEAG members include people with diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, sexual, and gender identities. Members include racialized people, new immigrants, people with disabilities, Indigenous people, and people with experiences of the justice system. LEAG members’ insights into a range of programs and issues, including Ontario Works, unemployment, systemic discrimination and the impacts of violence, will inform the activities of the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy. The biographies below highlight some of their interests and expertise.

Andrew is a Dorset Park resident who is active in the community, volunteering with Operation Springboard as a member of the Youth Justice Committee. Andrew is passionate about issues related to Ontario Works and employment services, and feels that services such as food banks are strained to meet the needs of those who are living on low incomes.

Ann-Marie is a resident of Scarborough East who volunteers with the United Way of Greater Toronto. The two issues in Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Ann-Marie is most passionate about are unemployment and housing. Ann-Marie is also a strong believer in serving humanity through volunteerism, and as a mother, takes these passions and lessons and shares them with her daughter. A humanitarian driven with a passion for helping others, Ann Marie is an extraordinary speaker, author, and a caring community advocate who speaks on the behalf of the marginalized and disadvantaged in our society.

Bee Lee is a community activist working tirelessly to reduce poverty both in the city as a member of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Lived Experience Advisory Group and nationally as a member of the National Poverty Reduction Strategy Ministerial Advisory Committee.

Bee Lee is an active community volunteer in the Steeles-L’Amoreaux neighborhood where she lives. She passionately volunteers and participates in city-wide community organizing on transit, housing and employment. She is a member of several community organizations including: Toronto Newcomer Council, Toronto Strong Neighbourhood Strategy Resident Advisory Group, Toronto Food Policy Council, Commitment to Community, Scarborough Civic Action Network and Scarborough Poverty Animator Network. Bee Lee is also actively involved in TTCRiders, Fair Fare Coalition, and Scarborough Transit Action.

Bee Lee is a frequent speaker and organizer for poverty reduction in the community. Housing, transit and food security are her top three priorities. Bee Lee is committed to improving housing in the city and issues related to high market rents, long waiting lists for social housing, finding ways to help low income residents use city parks and hydro corridors for community gardening, enrolling residents with the Food Share good food box program and speaking up for transit affordability and accessibility are extremely important to Bee.

She strongly believes deputation is an effective way to have her voice heard. She deputed many times at the city’s Executive Committee and her deputation on transit has been widely used as teaching/training material by George Brown College as well as for community events. Bee Lee not only deputes herself, she relentlessly mobilizes and coaches others to advocate for themselves and their communities to have their voices heard to inform and enrich the city’s decision making process. Bee Lee’s advocacy work has earned her recognition in 2016 with the Samara Everyday Political Citizen award and in 2017 with the Canada 150 Medal.

Carla lives in the Jane and Wilson Area and is involved as a volunteer with a number of organizations including North York Community Home and International Organization for Migration. Carla is passionate about youth mental health, and as a young person, sees the importance of having strong educational opportunities. Carla notes two significant personal achievements as overcoming the trials of being part of an immigrant family, and recently being awarded the Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers. Carla recently graduated and is now a scholar at University of Toronto Scarborough.

Cassandra lives in East York and believes that quality jobs and systemic change are the key matters when addressing issues related to poverty. Cassandra notes a significant personal achievement as developing a reverse employment strategy for a youth program, Youth Outside the Block. Cassandra is a member of the accountability body to the Poverty Reduction Strategy, the Lived Experience Advisory Group, and she runs BossDiva, a women’s small business network that supports marginalized women who aspire to start a business from home.

Colin is an Indigenous resident of the Garden District and has been involved in community and social justice organizing for several decades. Colin is passionate about homelessness and income security and believes no one should have to sleep outside, and everyone should have a minimum income. Colin volunteers with the Clan Mother’s Turtle Lodge and the Thunder Woman Healing Lodge, and notes a significant personal achievement as coordinating and organizing BC’s first province-wide HIV/AIDS conference in 1997.

Gerry lives in Toronto Centre and volunteers at the Dan Harrison Community Complex Residents Association and the Regent Park Community Health Centre. His additional community involvement includes St. Michael’s Hospital Co-Design Team, Margaret’s Drop-in Centre where he runs seniors bingo, VE’AHAVTA’s public speaking forum, Wired World of Senior’s Trouble Shooting Programme, where he is a Peer Trainer, and at Church in Regent Park where he provides Audio Visual assistance.  Gerry is an advocate for food bank accessibility and supports for low-income and vulnerable seniors.  Gerry’s lived experience as a senior will inform his contributions to the LEAG.

In 2004, Kaarina developed a trio of autoimmune diseases that prevent her from working regularly: systemic scleroderma, primary biliary cholangitis, and Sjögren’s syndrome. As a result, she is passionate about poverty and health. She’s been volunteering for Choose Health since 2014, the LEAG since 2016, and the Toronto Disability Pride March since 2017. She’s a speaker, advocate, and organizer.

Kaé is a black, queer, non-binary artist living loudly in the margins. Their advocacy work centres in making art accessible, as well as building compassionate community. Kaé is excited to be a part of the LEAG as a proponent of safe, affordable housing as well as food security.

Karen is a Scarborough resident who has worked in the women’s anti-violence movement for over 25 years. Currently, Karen volunteers with the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape. The issues that Karen would most like to see championed throughout the Poverty Reduction Strategy are housing, livable incomes and quality jobs.

Kelly is the former Chair of the Empowerment Council, a not-for-profit funded by CAMH, and a former Mental Health Representative of CAMH’s Liaison Committee, working to improve client experience. Kelly is a regular lecturer and presenter on addiction, trauma and recovery at York University and CAMH. She is a graduate on the Dean’s Honour List at George Brown College’s Transitions to Post-Secondary Education and she is currently a student at Ryerson University working towards a degree in Social Work. Kelly is a member of the Steering Committee at CAMH and a member of the Lived Experience Advisory Group (LEAG) for the City of Toronto.

Kevin is a resident of Mimico who is committed to issues related to disability and improving accessibility in the city. Kevin has channelled this passion into organizing the annual Toronto Disability Pride March and chairing the Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto.

Libertad lives in Etobicoke and volunteers at the Working Women Community Centre and Dr. Roz’s Healing Place. Libertad believes housing, education, employment and nutritious food should be made top priorities in the Poverty Reduction Strategy. Libertad would like to use the spaces created by the LEAG to champion the needs of women and children.

Lindsay’s combination of lived experience and academic education allows for her dynamic approach to the provision of her support to prisoners and former prisoners who are striving towards their community integration goals. Her areas of interest include educating individuals about harm reduction/overdose prevention and facilitating life- skills workshops with these populations. Lindsay is also a committed advocate who is passionate about bringing positive changes to those who are involved with the correctional and criminal justice systems by ensuring that housing, substance use, mental health and program needs are addressed as immediately as possible once they have been admitted to custody as well as throughout their incarceration.

Stephanie is a Bloordale resident who works at a non-profit environmental organization, as an advocate for children, and as a professional artist. As a creative individual in the city, Stephanie believes housing instability, the high cost of living, and the trend toward precarious contract and part-time work are pressing issues for Toronto.

Tarek is an individual Syrian refugee who came to Canada by himself in 2015. He studied Social Work and Community Development. Tarek works at North York Community House as a Settlement counsellor. He has been very involved in the community since he arrived. He has been a volunteer community advisory, a peer researcher, and a youth outreach worker and a youth worker for Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services. Tarek is also the founder of Syrian Youth Catering Services, a social enterprise that support international students who came from countries of conflict. He has volunteered with over 30 different organizations, supporting and fundraising for people in need both in and outside of Canada. All of these experiences allowed him to grow and participate in activism, calling for fairness and equity among humans, regardless of age, sex, culture, background, gender, religion, colour.

Tarek sees mental health, youth employment, and access to education, as critical issues that must be addressed. He is very passionate about youth mental health and runs workshops across the city about mental health and wellbeing, in addition to being a peer mentor at Stella’s Place, a local mental health organization that provides training and support to youth in Toronto. Tarek strongly believes in the power of peer support and as a young person, he sees the importance of having strong educational and employment opportunities. Many people in Tarek’s community have noticed his involvement and dedication to leadership. His school, for example, has awarded him many times, for his exemplary attitude, work ethic and involvement. He also received the Merit Award, in 2016. It is a bursary award given to students with an excellent commitment to academic studies, dedication to personal development and caring for others in the form of extracurricular and community activities. He has been chosen to be a mentor by the City of Toronto to advocate for youth mental health and newcomers issues in Toronto youth equity strategy. Tarek has clearly shown in such a short amount of time the best example of a young man who works very hard to build the future for himself and his peers.

Veronica is a Toronto Community Housing tenant in the Flemingdon Park community. Veronica has been a member of The Dream Team for five years, and presently, she is involved with the Housing Unit Takeovers (HUTs) and is a member of The Empowerment Council. She has been involved with the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy as an animator for community dialogues and has participated in many public consultations alongside Working for Change and Campaign 2000. Veronica is a graduate of Women Speak Out, has received peer training through Peer Recovery Education for Employment (PREFER), and is an esteemed guest speaker at conferences and events. Veronica’s passion lies in working with groups and teams dedicated to social justice and public education. Recently, Veronica completed her first year at First Nations Technical Institute College, where she is specializing in Indigenous mental health and addictions.