Putting down roots
United Way Halton & Hamilton’s new Investment Framework is bringing stability and flexibility to the critical social justice and equity work of frontline agencies
United Way Halton & Hamilton’s new Investment Framework is supporting the work of critical frontline agencies, including a long-time champion of women, girls, the gender diverse and 2S-LGBTQIA+Q2+ youth.
The framework is built on a foundation of three funding streams – Seed, Feed and Root – that bring together stability, maintenance, innovation, and systems–level transformation. The framework focuses on priority areas of poverty, children and youth, and wellness and belonging.
Its goals include the development of strategic planning, capacity-building and services that address root causes, and encouragement of collaboration and continuous improvement.
Seed provides short-term, flexible, project-based, venture-style funding focused on social innovation. Feed is three-year funding for established programs that align with UWHH investment priorities.
Root is five-year funding for organizations seeking to strengthen their agency at the core. It provides agencies more time to plan, grow and scale to respond to community needs. Achieving Root funding is a highly selective process with strict eligibility requirements, including a proven track record of collaboration, improvement and performance, outcome evaluation, diversity of funding streams and system-level change.
One social justice and equity agency that has been awarded Root funding has worked for well over a century to promote and protect the rights of girls and women, along with gender-diverse and 2S-LGBTQIA+Q2+ communities.
“Root funding gives us the opportunity to really fill in gaps in critical pieces of the social justice and equity work that we do that often doesn’t fit well into funding boxes or priorities,” said Medora, the agency’s director of operations.
“That’s part of the marginalization and oppression that women and gender-diverse people have experienced, especially in racialized communities. United Way’s Root funding really gives us the opportunity to continue this important work so that we don’t have to compromise on service delivery.”
The stability of five-year funding allows for longer-term planning, better staff development and more effective capacity-building in areas of focus, says Medora, including supports for racialized communities, calls-to-action to address and eliminate racism, and advocacy for women facing precarious work.
“As we plan to come out of this crisis situation, we need to be thinking about women differently and how much women bear the costs of inequity and how that needs to change.”
United Way Root funding also directly supports an after-school program in priority elementary schools, a peer-based post-partum program for vulnerable new moms, a food security and training program for women in transitional living facilities, and health and wellness activities for women experiencing poverty.
United Way funding has allowed the agency to explore, create and test virtual programs and services that have proven vital during pandemic lockdowns, says Medora. As well, the agency has rolled out programs to maintain contact with those unable or unwilling to be online.
Root funding is also allowing for sustainable and dedicated resources for 2S-LGBTQIA+Q2+ youth. Flexibility in funding has allowed a peer-led program founded by 2S-LGBTQIA+Q2+ youth to shift from an in-person, activities-based focus to mental health and crisis-based interventions and supports.
“This is an underserviced group and in the pandemic they are facing incredible vulnerability through isolation. Some are stuck at home with family they’re not out with or aren’t safe with and they can’t be their full self,” said Medora.
“It’s been very hard. Many young people just feel like there’s no hope, no end in sight and they’re so alone. We check in, one-to-one, whether on the computer or on the phone.”
Any 2S-LGBTQIA+Q2+ individual between 16 and 29 can sign up and a member of the team will message them once a week through social media or email.
Sometimes the chats are casual and light-hearted, but other times young people are talking about homelessness, unemployment and feelings of loneliness or isolation, says check-in program coordinator Nira. Where necessary, the check-in team links young people to mental health, housing and job supports, along with crisis interventions that are queer-affirming.
Whether or not they respond and start a conversation, the youth appreciate that someone is concerned about them, says Nira.
“There is comfort in knowing someone is looking out for you and thinking about you. This program is accessible and youth like it because they only have to share what they feel like sharing. Our numbers have grown through the pandemic.”
Young people have said the program has been lifeline or a “soothing balm. People really, really rely on our programming and programs like us,” says Nira.
And some parents have reached out on behalf of their children to find people with shared lived experience they can connect with.
“It’s been great knowing that there are parents out there who want their kids to be comfortable and be happy, and be who they are.”
The check-in program will continue after COVID recedes because not all queer youth can or will attend in-person events, says Nira.
“It’s crucial that we continue to be here for them.”