Twenty Torontonians will use their firsthand experience with the conditions and impacts of living with poverty to inform the development, implementation, and monitoring of the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.

More than 350 residents applied to be part of the Lived Experience Advisory Group (LEAG). The selected members come from communities across the city and have diverse experiences with poverty. They represent the population groups most affected by poverty as well as people currently living in poverty and people who have overcome it.

“The LEAG is important in order to share our narratives about our lived experience, successes, failures and insight into how the three levels of government work or don’t work for citizens trying to make it back from the very margins of society,” said Heather Shand, a LEAG member. “Together we will form a strong voice, build bridges within city hall, form new working relationships and most importantly, inform policy with our vast, incredible and inspiring stories.”

LEAG Members 2017-2019

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 ethno cultural and gender identities, as well as sexual orientations. Members also include racialized people, new immigrants, people with disabilities, Indigenous people, and people with experience of the justice system. The members’ insights into a range of programs and issues including Ontario Works, unemployment, discrimination and the impacts of violence will inform 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.

Bee Lee lives in Scarborough North and is active with a number of community organizations including Steeles-L’Amoreaux Strength-in-PartnershipBirchmount Bluffs Neighbourhood Centre, the Scarborough Civic Action Network, and the Toronto Newcomer Council. Bee Lee is committed to improving housing in the city and sees issues related to high market rents, long waiting lists for social housing, and transit affordability as extremely important.

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.

Cassandra lives in Scarborough/Malvern 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.

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.

Dennis lives in downtown Toronto and is an active member of a number of organizations in the community, including the Dan Harrison Safety and Security Committee. Dennis is committed to addressing the challenges faced by children who are living in poverty. In the implementation of the poverty reduction strategy, Dennis would like to see housing stability and service access prioritized.

Gerry lives in Toronto Center and volunteers at the Dan Harrison Complex and the Regent Park Community Health Centre. 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.

Kaarina is an East York resident who volunteers with Toronto Central Choose Health. The two poverty reduction issues that Kaarina is most passionate about directly affect her life: housing and transit. Kaarina notes a significant personal achievement as having lead 20 chronic pain self-management workshops in the last three years.

Kae 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. Kae 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 Chair of the Empowerment Council (a NFP funded by CAMH). A member of the Liaison Committee at CAMH working to improve client experience. A regular presenter on addiction, trauma and recovery at York University and CAMH. Kelly is a full time student at George Brown College in the Social Services program and champions for greater after-care and housing support for mental health and addictions.

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 is a Mimico resident who volunteers in a program for young people with family members who are incarcerated. Lindsay is passionate about housing issues and the reintegration of individuals who have been part of the criminal justice system, as well as helping people escape the cycle of crime.

Mona lives in the Church/Wellesley Village, and is active in the community, volunteering with many organizations, including STAR Learning Centre, and The Dream Team. Mona believes that poverty reduction initiatives should include a strong focus on affordable and supportive housing, as well as consideration of the hidden homelessness of women and youth.

Stephanie is a Bloordale resident who volunteers with Toronto Wildlife Rescue, and a women’s group that focuses on equality and activism. Living as an artist and creative individual in the city, Stephanie believes the high cost of living in Toronto as well as the trend toward precarious contract and part-time work are pressing issues.

Tarek is a Scarborough resident who volunteers with the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture and Free the Children. Tarek sees youth employment, access to education, and mental health as critical issues that must be addressed in the implementation of Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. Tarek is a newcomer to Toronto and is proud of how he has been able to make this his new home, learning a new language and way of life, and developing an understanding of the issues affecting his communities.

Veronica is a resident of Flemingdon Park and volunteers with The Dream Team and Working for Change, organizations that support individuals living with mental health needs. Veronica is passionate about eliminating child poverty and homelessness, and believes the vital key to wellbeing is secure housing.