Today’s Budget is Tomorrow’s Prosperity: Supporting Women, Girls, and Gender Diverse People in Budget 2024
Oral presentation to Ontario's Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs
February 1, 2024
Good morning, thank you very much for the opportunity to present this morning. My name is Sami Pritchard and I am the Interim Director of Advocacy and Communications at YWCA Toronto.
YWCA Toronto is the city’s largest multi-service nonprofit organization, serving more than 13,000 people annually across the city – primarily women, girls, and gender diverse people. Our services include 820 permanent housing units, four shelters – two of which are for those fleeing gender-based violence, many employment and training programs, as well as girls and youth programming and child care. Several of our programs – including our VAW services, supportive housing, and employment programs – are funded by the Province, which is a partnership we are very grateful for.
Many of the community members we serve are survivors of violence, are from households impacted by poverty, disability and mental health issues, are newcomers to Canada, and/or women on social assistance looking to enter the labour market.
We are also connected to a provincial and national movement. We chair our YWCA Ontario Coalition, which is primarily an advocacy body that represents the interests of YWCA Member Associations across the province from St. Thomas-Elgin to Sudbury.
As frontline service agencies, we know that when the communities we serve are well supported they are able to thrive and prosper. So as we discuss our forthcoming recommendations today, we urge you to consider how their implementation in Budget 2024 can enable the economic and social prosperity of women, girls, and gender diverse people in the province.
I would like to start by talking about the nonprofit sector which is an integral pillar of the economy that contributes $65 billion annually to the province’s GDP and employs more than 844,000 people – the majority of whom are women and racialized workers. Currently, the nonprofit sector is at a tipping point. According to the Ontario Nonprofit Network, there has been a 76% increase in demand for services across the sector over the past year and nonprofits are struggling to meet the exponentially growing demand.1 This is certainly reflected within our association. To provide an example, in 2023 we had to make the difficult decision to stop enrolling children in our early childhood education centre due to space and staffing shortages, and we have a near-constant need for shelter relief staff due to COVID outbreaks, and staff burnout.
As levels of poverty and gender-based violence continue to mount, we have seen a huge uptick in demand for our shelter and housing services – both of which are chronically at capacity. At the same time, the needs of the community we serve have become much more complex, making our need for greater support more pertinent than ever.
Amidst several compounding crises, the nonprofit sector has served as Ontario’s safety net – providing haven and hope – this while we ourselves feel the impact of these crises. COVID-19, increased housing precarity and poverty, along with stagnant wages for frontline staff brought on by Bill 124 have deeply impacted our sector, including our staff who are the backbone of our work.
The nonprofit sector and as such the wellbeing of Ontarians cannot be sustained without greater support. An investment in nonprofits is an investment in the economic prosperity of Ontario’s women, girls, and gender diverse people, who not only rely on our services but who are also integral to the work and labour force within the sector.
Today, we recommend you establish a home for the nonprofit sector in the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade that allows you to efficiently work with the over 58,000 nonprofits, charities, and grassroots groups in Ontario to address the nonprofit human resources crisis.
We would also like to talk about the importance of investing in girls and youth. Currently, no level of government provides dedicated funding for girls’ programming. As an organization that provides this programming, we know that these programs provide innumerable opportunities for girls and youth to build capacity, express themselves creatively, develop leadership skills and form meaningful connections with their peers; all of this is done through strengths-based and trauma-informed programming and activities. Our programs such as the first of-it’s-kind in Canada Girls’ Centre in Scarborough, our Girls’ Council, and Camp Tapawingo, all work towards empowering our province’s future change-makers.
To invest in today’s girls and youth to ensure brighter futures, we recommend the province create a $30 million girls’-specific youth fund that women’s organizations – and other organizations with emerging and established girls’ programs – can access to enable organizations like ours to continue providing responsive and supportive programming.
National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence (GBV) & an Intersectional Approach to Ending GBV
In November 2023 we were buoyed and relieved to see the signing of the Canada-Ontario bilateral agreement on the implementation of the National Action Plan to end gender-based violence (GBV) and the corresponding investment of $162 million to address ending GBV.
The 2022 Renfrew County Inquest recommendations identified gender-based violence and intimate partner violence as an epidemic in the province. As service providers, we see every day the impacts of intimate partner and gender-based violence, and we know that supporting those fleeing violence means going beyond providing immediate shelter, but also wraparound trauma-informed, culturally appropriate supports, such as mental health services, housing acquisition support, and referrals to lawyers, doctors, and child care.
Through the National Action Plan agreement, we are pleased to see a commitment to stabilize and strengthen the sector and investments in prevention efforts.
As service providers, we know that addressing gender-based violence requires a multi-faceted approach, particularly, an approach that recognizes systemic barriers which prevent people from leaving violent relationships such as poverty, housing, and mental health and addictions. The stark reality is that one in five single mothers in Canada raise their children in poverty, and last year one in four food bank clients were children or youth. These systemic issues can exacerbate gender-based violence in households.
We encourage the government to consider how poverty reduction, including income supports and social housing, are integral to a multi-faceted approach to ending gender-based violence. We can and must do better to support women, girls, and gender diverse people across the province.
We are grateful for the province’s openness to multilateral collaboration to serve Ontarians, including through the National Action Plan and agreements with municipalities such as Toronto’s recent New Deal, and we encourage continued collaboration to work for the province’s future prosperity.
We know that a budget is a political document that reflects the priorities of those who build it. Our hope is that Budget 2024 will be reflective of a government that prioritizes the needs of women, girls and gender diverse people in this province.
Thank you very much for your time.
Sami Pritchard is the Director of Advocacy and Communications at YWCA Toronto
1 2023 State of the Sector: At a Tipping Point. Policy Report