Understanding our roots is an important part of our story

In the late 1990’s, East Scarborough was a community in desperate need. Families were leaving the inner city where low cost housing was becoming increasingly scarce, and moving to the inner suburbs to find more affordable housing. Vast numbers of refugees were being housed in the motel strip along Kingston Road. Few services for these new residents were available nearby. The suburban transit infrastructure was inadequate. Simply getting to where the services existed was an enormous barrier.

Fortunately, a group of people working and volunteering in the community (Public Health workers and volunteers from the Caring Alliance – a group from various faith communities), overwhelmed by the need, knew something had to change.

They contacted various agencies that were mandated to serve people in the community but had been unable to identify and reach those who would have benefited from their services. They developed a survey asking residents what they needed. Then, they went door to door, engaging the residents. This was the beginning of the resident-focused approach. Rather than assuming they knew what residents needed, they took the time to ask about – and really listen to – what residents wanted.

Once we had feedback from the residents, the solution to providing services in the community was disarmingly simple. It was clear that no ONE agency or organization could meet all of the challenges and serve all of the varied needs, but collectively the possibilities were enormous.

We spent two years establishing a model that made sense, building trust among agencies, creating a framework within which all players could work. The final result was a partnership of agencies, all of which understood the value of collaboration and who were able to work within a collectively created framework.

After two years of discussion, consultation and building trust among agencies, East Scarborough Storefront opened its doors in a local shopping mall. It was within walking distance of many of the apartment towers in which residents lived. Before we knew it, clients began arriving, thanks to word of mouth. It was clear the services we offered were desperately needed in the community.