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How YSM disrupts the cycle of poverty: Steve’s story

As a single father and the owner of a struggling business, Steve* had become lost in a maze of debt and overdue taxes.

Alone and overwhelmed

Steve’s situation became even more overwhelming as he tried to navigate his financial challenges in the midst of ongoing personal difficulties – social anxiety, literacy issues, and the crippling pain of worsening arthritis and fibromyalgia. As Steve became more and more isolated, he turned to alcohol to cope. He wanted to change his life but didn’t know where to start.

His 20-year-old daughter Alice* began to shoulder the responsibility of caring for the family, which included a younger sister struggling with addiction. At first Alice reached out to Yonge Street Mission to seek support for herself, but soon she’d introduced Steve to YSM as well.

Discovering a community of support 

Steve was struggling alone to navigate public support systems while simultaneously coping with health issues and addiction.

As he reached out to YSM, Steve was accepted into YSM’s care management program and assigned a care manager. YSM’s care managers play a key role in offering holistic, wrap-around care. They listen, helping community members assess their situations and develop their own plans for moving forward from surviving to thriving.

YSM’s RISE model of care – Respond, Invite, Support, Engage – is a pivotal part of how we serve community members experiencing poverty, providing immediate relief services like access to our Food Bank as an entry point to more comprehensive programs and services.

Using the RISE model, we first responded to Steve’s immediate needs, making sure he had access to healthy food and support for his mental health needs. Addressing these core challenges made it possible for Steve to begin to take steps forward toward his long-term goals.

Next Steve’s care manager invited him to engage more deeply in the programs and services available both within and outside of YSM, to address the specific needs he had identified. One of the most powerful services a care manager provides is practical help in both finding and navigating available support systems.

We connected Steve with health practitioners, social assistance programs, addiction services, lawyers and accountants to walk alongside him as he began to address his financial situation. As Steve successfully navigated various systems, his mental health and sense of self-worth markedly improved, though his journey continues.

Eliminating generational poverty with TIMES™

Six years ago, we took the important step of creating and implementing our unique measurement tool, TIMES™ – Transformation Integrated Measurement and Evaluation System – which we use to track 18 wellness indicators among the community members we serve.

As Steve began with his YSM care manager, he self-identified his standing on each wellness indicator. Over time his care manager could then track his progress across a 5-point scale. This helped Steve see and celebrate his progress. It also helps us gauge the impact of each program, learn more about how we can better address community members’ concerns, and assess whether we are meaningfully moving the dial toward ending long-term poverty in Toronto.

Throughout 2023, we took a deep dive into our community data regarding employment programming — focusing on the pathways community members take toward meaningful income. These pathways often begin with deep listening to understand the complex social barriers that affect people on a personal basis.

For example, we learned among those seeking employment, more than 85% required mental health support, 25% needed housing assistance, 24% needed youth drop-in services, and 22% required Food Bank access. Through our TIMES™ measurements we also learned the vast majority of those looking for employment accessed more than one YSM program, benefiting from wrap-around care.

What does this mean for Steve? 

Nearly one-third of the supports Steve needed from YSM included help in navigating systems, and we were alongside him every step of the way—accompanying him to meetings, helping with paperwork, and providing coaching.

Steve’s TIMES™ measurements showed that as his sense of power to navigate social support programs increased, he experienced a correlating improvement in his confidence, mental health, and efforts to overcome addiction. This brought about a critical shift in Steve’s life and in the lives of his family members as he decluttered his house, filed his taxes, folded his business, enrolled in financial support, and connected with physiotherapists.

These changes in Steve’s life gave his daughter Alice the opportunity to focus on her own financial goals and dreams—creating an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty for future generations of his family.

*Names and images have been changed to protect community members. 

This story originally appeared in YSM’s 2022-23 Annual Report.