Unison Health Community Services

Working together to deliver accessible and high quality health and community services that are integrated, respond to needs, build on strengths and inspire change.

Our Story What We Do

History of Organization

Unison Health and Community Services was formed by a voluntary merger of New Heights Community Health Centres and York Community Services. While both organizations have their own unique history, over the years they shared a common goal of building healthy communities.

York Community Services was initially funded as a demonstration project of integrated social and health services in 1973 and was incorporated under a community Board in 1975. The local MPP, medical officer of health, community activists and other organizations helped develop its unique service model – inter-disciplinary, multi-service care, all under one roof and one administration.

New Heights CHCs started in 1974 as Lawrence Heights Medical Centre with one doctor and one nurse-receptionist when residents formed a non-profit Board of Directors and lobbied the Ontario government for more accessible health care. In 1989, the name was changed to Lawrence Heights Community Health Centre to reflect the centre’s holistic model of care. As the centre began expanding its services into new communities, it went through another name change in 2008 and became known as New Heights Community Health Centres.

Over the years, both New Heights CHCs and York Community Services expanded their services and added new programs to better serve their communities. To accommodate their ongoing growth, both organizations went through a number of major capital projects, including an addition of two satellites and community services hubs in 2006.

Unison Health and Community Services is building on the strength of both predecessor organizations and continues working on improving access to programs and services in North West Toronto.

Accolades and Accomplishments

  • With four full-service locations, Unison Health and Community Services serves over 22,000 clients in three out of Toronto’s 13 priority neighbourhoods.
  • Unison Health and Community Services was formed by the first voluntary merger of community health centres in Ontario. Unisonès CEO and Board Members shared the learnings from the merger process in the Healthcare Management Forum magazine.
  • Unison 2011 Staff Satisfaction Survey yielded very high staff engagement results with Unison Health and Community Services setting the benchmark for other community health centres in Ontario. 

  • Unison Health and Community Services has been commended for its work in the community and featured on radio, television, at conferences and in the newspapers over the years.
  • Unison has hosted international delegations wishing to learn about their comprehensive model of healthcare.
  • Unison (formerly York Community Services) was profiled in Ontario Health Quality Council 2008 Report: “YCS’s focus… isn’t limited to health care. Its work is based on the understanding that a range of factors, including housing, employment, social connections, income and biology and gender and race, which we call the determinants of health, all affect whether people are healthy. Among a vulnerable population, such as YCS serves, it’s common to have to deal with many types of needs to keep someone well.” New Heights CHCs’ (Lawrence Heights CHC at the time) work on advanced access was noted in the same report. 
  • Unison (formerly York Community Services) became a recipient of the Vital Ideas Award in 2005 for its housing program.

Our Programs How We Do It

  • Health Programs include a full family practice, perinatal programs, nutrition counselling, chiropody, preventive health care and health education, provided by a team of physicians, nurse practitioners, community health nurses, dietitians, chiropodists, lab assistant and support staff. 
  • Counselling and Case Management Programs offer crisis intervention, individual, family and marital counselling, seniors case management, information on community resources, workshops, information and counselling for newcomer groups, and assistance and co-ordination of services for the frail elderly.
  • Health Promotion services include Diabetes Education Centre, pre- and post-natal education programs, Community Breastfeeding Centre, harm reduction programs, community kitchen groups, walking programs, outreach to newcomer populations, development of group programs and information on community services, employment and education. 
  • Community Capacity Building stream includes Action for Neighbourhood Change project in the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood, participation in advocacy initiatives, support for community action groups and leadership training programs.
  • Community Legal Clinic offers advice, representation, legal education and community development for low income residents in several areas of law including tenant issues, immigration, income maintenance, women's abuse, government pensions, human rights, and notarization of legal documents
  • Housing Help services assist low-income people to find and retain stable housing through a variety of programs including Housing Search, applications to Housing Connections, Rent Bank, Eviction Prevention, Share the Warmth grants and Streets-to-Homes follow-up services for people who formerly lived on the street.
  • Adult Protective Services provides support, case management and advocacy for adults with developmental disabilities who are living independently in the community, with additional SIL staff (Supporting Independent Living) assigned to clients who require more intensive life skills training and support.
  • Pathways to Education program works with high school students living in Lawrence Heights and Neptune Drive communities. Pathways program provides the following student supports: academic support, social and career support, financial support, and staff/advocacy support.
  • Group Programs include parenting classes, art class for adults with disabilities and Streets to Homes clients, drop-in education programs for pregnant women and new mothers, culture-specific support groups, harm reduction drop-ins, training programs, community kitchen groups and community gardens.

 

Streets to Homes Kitchen and Art Program

Our Streets to Homes (S2H) Program provides a range of supports for adults who were formerly living on the street and are now placed in housing through City of Toronto staff. Its main objective is to keep clients housed by building social skills, providing intensive follow-up support and reconnecting people to their community. We work with clients to re-establish social networks and integrate them into community life, reinforce activities of daily living through support and life skills training, and provide employment preparation, support and connections. In 2006, YCS launched a S2H Community Kitchen Program to help break isolation, promote engagement between clients and our centre, build opportunities for social skills development and relationships with their peers, and provide education on a range of topics including health and healthy lifestyles, social skills, housing and tenant issues and local community resources. This weekly program runs year round and provides a hot lunch for up to 50 participants as well as an educational and social activity. Additionally, we offer a morning art program for 14 clients to help enhance their artistic skills and provide opportunities for self-expression.

Program Impact

Since 2006, our Streets to Homes Program has worked with clients who were formerly homeless to secure their tenancy, build life skills, help integrate them into the community and enhance their employability with the result that 95% of our clients have successfully retained their housing, a large number have become community volunteers and many have progressed to part-time employment.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

“Getting off the street into housing improves the quality of life of the homeless and proves to be less costly for the City:

About two-thirds of (the Streets to Homes) population housed report an improvement in health, personal security and level of stress. … An analysis of the program, carried out in 2009, found that residents housed through the program are much less likely to use costly emergency services such as ambulance and police services, and that providing affordable housing costs less on average ($23 per day) than use of shelters ($69), jails ($142) and hospitals ($665) by the homeless.”

(Toronto’s Vital Signs®, 2009)

Participant Vignette

Gordon came to our Streets to Homes program with a range of issues in addition to his housing needs. He had serious health concerns, low level of education, difficulty with reading and writing and low self-esteem. After placement in our S2H program, Gordon was assessed by a YCS physician. A care coordination plan was developed involving medical and social staff at YCS along with his follow up worker. Gordon subsequently joined the Diabetes Education Clinic at YCS and was helped to obtain benefits through Ontario Disability Support Program. He was also sent for assessment regarding his learning, emotional and employment needs, and is now participating in a program to upgrade his basic literacy and numeracy skills. Identified as having a developmental disability, Gordon was recently connected with an Adult Protective Service Worker at YCS for ongoing case management and help with independent living. Since joining our Community Kitchen Program for S2H clients, Gordon says that he no longer feels isolated in his apartment. He has become an active volunteer and has started to make new friends. He participates in workshops on health, housing and social issues and enjoys watching movies and playing games each week. It is important to note that Gordon has successfully maintained his housing and recently moved from a private market unit to rent geared to income unit.

Seniors Health and Social Club

Seniors Health and Social Club originated from a community-based research that was conducted in one of Toronto Commuity Housing (TCHC) buildings in the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood. As a result, a group of seniors got together with New Heights (now Unison Health and Community Services) staff to plan activities for Seniors Health Club that later developed into Health and Social Club. Seniors who attend the Club face multiple challenges, including isolation, mobility issues, low income and language barrier. By bringing the program to them, we help them overcome some of these challenges and get involved in various health promotion and social activities. Seniors Health and Social Club program includes gentle fitness sessions, arts and crafts activities and a singing circle. In addition, there is a movie club and small library run at one of the TCHC buildings. The library is supported by a resident volunteer, formerly a professional librarian. Through the Club, seniors get to meet representatives from various community agencies, cook together with a registered dietitian, share information and socialize. It is becoming a tradition to have an annual summer trip to one of Toronto’s waterfront parks and have a picnic and fitness session outside. Many seniors have developed friendships through Seniors Health & Social Club. They are often referred to additional services both within Unison Health and Community Services and at other community agencies. The Club helps them expand their knowledge about resources available in the neighbourhood and build a stronger support network.

Funding and Program Partners

  • New Horizons for Seniors, Human Resource and Development Canada (funders)
  • Russian Library and Community Information Centre, Toronto Community Housing (partners)

Program Impact

Since the Seniors Health and Social club started four years ago, the number of participants grew from 12 to over 70 seniors. The program is now offered at two TCHC senior buildings in the area and one seniors’ co-op building. Program participants report a number of positive improvements in their health, including increased mobility, improved endurance, reduced pain and stress. The club also offers social benefits, better social life and more interesting leisure time among them. Seniors also appreciate the knowledge and skills they acquire at the club, including new fitness routines they can do at home, information about better nutrition and new recipes to try at home.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

“More than 25% of seniors were living alone in 2006 (up 5.4% from 2001) increasing the challenges of social isolation and access to healthcare.”

(Toronto’s Vital Signs®, 2009)

By bringing the program to seniors, Seniors Health and Social Club helps them get involved in various health promotional and social activities, decrease isolation and get information and access to services in the community, including Aging at Home program offered by Unison Health and Community Services, which improves access to healthcare.

Participant Vignette

“Seniors Health and Social Club became a life saver in more ways than one. It helps us improve our health but its benefits go beyond that: it encourage us to be more active, helps maintain positive attitude and prolongs life. Opportunities to socialize are very important at our age and very hard to come by. Our family members are usually busy with their lives and seniors are on their own most of the time. When they get together, all they talk about are illnesses and ailments, which leads to even poorer health. That’s why organizing something like Seniors Health Club was essential to us.

We have fitness classes twice a week and a lot of people attend them regularly. Our fitness instructor helps us tailor the routine to our individual needs. Even people who can’t move without support can participate in her classes. The club helped us discover a lot of hidden talents. Art classes were a lot of fun and we even had an exhibition in the building. Club participants organized two concerts and we are now attending a singing circle and planning our next performance.

In addition to fitness and recreational activities, we had numerous opportunities to meet with Diabetes Education Centre workers, psychologist, dietitian and representatives of other agencies. Their talks were very informative and helpful.

The launch of a library in our building was a major event for us. Seniors can borrow new books and often donate our own. And I can put my experience and skills to work by managing the library. The library has become a place to exchange opinions about books and movies, which we watch together once a week. The club has to continue its work. It helps us stay healthy and happy.”

-Faina Koshelevska

Lawrence Heights Inter-organizational Network (LHION)

LHION was initiated by our community health centre (former Lawrence Heights Community Health Centre) in partnership with local community agencies in 2005 in the aftermath of a traumatic summer that witnessed increased youth and gang violence in the community.  Residents were asking agencies to do something, and agencies realized that they had limited capacity to take collective responsibility and action if they did not work together.  Later that year, Lawrence Heights was designated a "priority neighbourhood" by the City of Toronto.  Today, LHION member agencies work together addressing community health through issue specific workgroups supported by a Steering Committee with representatives from each workgroup.

Who We Are:

The Lawrence Heights Inter-Organization Network (LHION) is a network of service providers, community organizations and other representative groups who deliver programs and services in the communities of Lawrence Heights, Lotherton Pathway and Neptune, which comprise one of thirteen priority neighbourhoods in the City of Toronto. We work together using an anti-racism, anti-oppression framework, to ccordinate our efforts toward building healthy and sustainable communities.

Vision:

To work together with all interested parties to build a dynamic, engaged, empowered, inclusive, vibrant and healthy community.

Mission:

LHION's mission is to build community capacity through leadership development, collaboration, effective use of resources and advocacy.

A Steering Committee which is elected by general membership and ten workgroups carry out the work of the network.  The workgroups are Community Safety, Education, Employment and Training, Food Justice, Revitilization, Youth Outreach Workers and Lotherton Pathway.  Workgroups are convened based on community identified issues.

Funding and Program Partners

Family Services Toronto, JVS, North York Community House, North York Harvest Food Bark, Neptune Renewal Group, Lawrence Heights Community Animators, ArtStart, Toronto Public Library, Toronto Public Health, Toronto Community Housing Corporation, City of Toronto, Social Development and Finance as well as the Lawrence Heights Community Centre have all made significant contributions to the development of LHION.

Program Impact

  • Residents, front-line workers, students and voluteers all acquire new skills that enable them to better advocate for their neighbours and and build a stronger voice for their community.
  • With a steering committee that supports and coordinates seven workgroups, LHION has
    • Coordinated an effective homework help network, including training for volunteers;
    • Received a grant to develop BePart, a community-based action research project that consulted with residents and agencies on effective collaboration;
    • Co-hosted meetings with the City for agency input into neighbourhood revitalization;
    • Organized extensive training for youth outreach workers;
    • Developed a crisis response protocol that has been used in critical incidents in the community;
    • Follow up support and advocacy in the community after crisis situations;
    • Coordinated grant applications amongst member groups to address duplication of service issues;
    • Supported grant application of the East African Community Association for a year-round community market;
    • Established a weekly Employment Café in the community and coordinated job fairs as appropriate;
    • Hosted community meetings to engage residents in the work of the LHION through Friday Night Cafes;
    • Supported the emergence of the Community Action Team as a vehicle for resident activism, mobilization and advocacy;
    • Coordinated settlement work within the neighbourhoods of Lotherton Pathways, Lawrence Heights and Neptune Avenue.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

  • “The more we feel connected to others, the more vibrant and resilient we are, individually and collectively. Opportunities to contribute our unique talents, including becoming community leaders, are key to the vitality of our city.” Vital Signs Highlights, Metro, 2009

    LHION members and resident leaders have an increased awareness of community issues and improved access to community resources, feel more confident and empowered to engage other residents and take on leadership roles in their communities.

Participant Vignette

  • "Now I feel that they respect me more. We gain more voice in the powerhouse of Lawrence Heights… We get familiar. Now they know you are an activist – not a nobody. Now they return my messages."
  • "Because of the conflict resolution training, I was able to reign in my anger with a group conflict. I took it as a challenge to practice this new tool."
  • "I was more confident when designing/facilitating the anti-oppression training [that I did] for the BePART group."

What You Can Do

Streets to Homes Kitchen and Art Program

Donation impact

Financial support will enable Unison Health and Community Services to enhance the S2H Community Kitchen and Art Program with the following impact on formerly homeless clients:

  • Enhanced social skills
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Connection with their peers
  • Increased participation in volunteer activity leading to employment
  • Increased engagement with the community
  • Decreased isolation
  • Ability to express their inner thoughts through art work.

 

Seniors Health and Social Club

Activities a donation will support

Financial support will help Unison Health and Community Services expand club activities as well as offer the program in other building with high concentration of low-income vulnerable seniors. It will cover:

  • Fitness sessions for seniors
  • Cooking Club for healthy eating and socializing (important to break seniors’ isolation through “cook and talk”)
  • Summer outing trip – the cost of bus, lunch and picnic permit
  • Health Promoting information sessions such as fall prevention, healthy cooking on a budget, stress management, healthy relationships, etc.

Donation impact

Benefits of the program include:

  • Improved seniors health
  • Decreased isolation
  • Ongoing involvement of seniors in their communities
  • Information/referrals to resources in the neighbourhood.
  • Opportunties for low-income seniors to access a variety of healthcare, recreational and community resources
  • Stronger network through peer-to-peer learning and support
  • Opportunties for community and social service providers to extend their outreach to the isolated and vulnerable seniors

 

Lawrence Heights Inter-organizational Network (LHION)

Activities a donation will support

Financial support will help Unison Health and Community Services sustain LHION not only in the Lawrence Heights and Neptune communities but also support similar neighbourhood networks in other communities that we serve. It will cover:

  • A part-time network coordinator position
  • Cost of website, flyers and outreach
  • Refreshment and childcare costs so that parents can participate in community events, meetings and workshops
  • Weekly Friday Night Cafe nights where residents share skills, make presentations and get together to reclaim their neighbourhood.

Donation impact

By contributing towards LHION, we enable multiple stakeholders to coordinate a broad range of community services and opportunities for resident leadership.

  • Help build trust, create more peace and lessen tension and resentment in the community
  • Create partnerships built on diverse knowledge, skills, and expertise
  • Generate more diverse ideas and plans for community initiatives and neighbourhood revitalization
  • Help training participants become stakeholders in the work that is going on in their communities along with agencies and share with other residents
  • Ensure residents’ voice becomes stronger to advocate for themselves and take action

Contact

Ana Garcia
Executive Assistant
416.787.1676 x257
Charitable Number: 108225871RR0001

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