Scotiabank hosts Breakfast of Influencers to combat the crushing effects of poverty on health

After spending 12 years bouncing around from foster care to group homes, Vivian was bounced out of the system on her 18th birthday. With nowhere to go, she ended up homeless. Then she met Dr. Naomi Thulien, then a U of T doctoral student and nurse practitioner, now a researcher at MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, who was researching the experiences of young people exiting homelessness to understand their social and economic support needs. With relentless determination, Vivian turned her life around. Today she is a student of veterinary nursing, set to move into her first couple’s apartment with her common-law husband—and a passionate advocate and role model for homeless youth. 

Vivian is on a mission to break the stigma associated with homelessness that keeps young people from achieving their full potential. She shared her courageous personal story with the 130 influencers, among them some of Canada’s top female executives, who attended a sold-out breakfast at the ScotiaCentre on June 14, hosted by Tangerine CEO, Gillian Riley. Her message was simple and persuasive: “Do not discount homeless youth. We want to contribute to society. We just need the confidence, the social and life skills, and affordable housing. That’s where you can come in.” Offering mentorship, she said, can effect meaningful change in a young homeless person’s life. 

Gillian Riley, President and CEO of Tangerine, shines a light on the pathbreaking research taking place at St. Michael’s MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions.

The event raised $1.16 million for MAP, a pathbreaking research centre that is using innovative, solutions-focused approaches to intervene at the intersection of poverty and health. This incredible success would not have been possible without the matching support of a generous Toronto-based family who are long-time friends of St. Michael’s. The funds will be used to support novel interventions and pioneering research, including Thulien’s project, that are designed to lift people who are experiencing disadvantage and marginalization out of poverty, and reduce their risk of ending up in the emergency room.

Dr. Pat O’Campo, Executive Director of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute and an expert on the impacts that urban social problems have on the health of low-income populations, moderated the up-close-and-personal panel discussion about MAP’s pioneering work and its aspirations to build the world’s healthiest city. The urgency to design real solutions, she underscored, has never been greater in Toronto, with pockets of poverty and precarious work, including among youth, on the rise.

MAP social justice advocate Dr. Nav Persaud, who is working to make life-saving prescription medicines affordable and accessible for everyone, put the situation in perspective. “There are many people living close to the edge of a cliff,” he explained. “Some of these medications are not that expensive, a few hundred dollars. But people risk death or making their condition worse if they can’t get them.”

Like the homeless man who came into Dr. Carolyn Snider’s emergency department in very bad shape, after his backpack was stolen along with his medication. Her team gave him a meal tray and a dose of medication, arranged for his prescription refill, and connected him with the Toronto CATCH Program. This is a project MAP Director Dr. Stephen Hwang piloted in Toronto to provide rapid access to housing and mental health supports for chronically homeless men and women.

“Working at St. Mike’s has taught me the privilege of treating people experiencing disadvantage,” said Snider. “This is a calling for all of us here. It’s a passion.” 

They agreed that the unique approach MAP scientists take is what makes their interventions so successful. They do not fixate on the problem. They work together with the affected communities to come up with real solutions that can be implemented, tested, scaled up and shared with other cities. This is the critical factor in making transformative, system-wide improvements. And St. Mike’s is leading the charge. As Vivian emphasized: “We can influence other cities by being an example. We can make big changes, even though they might seem small now.”

But public investment alone can’t accomplish these changes, the Hon. Bill Morneau, Canada’s Finance Minister and former board chair of St. Michael’s Hospital, reminded the audience. Conquering the health-poverty cycle in our cities requires a robust collaboration among the public, private and philanthropic sectors. 

As Morneau said, with the leadership of individuals and businesses like those who lent their support to Breakfast of Influencers, St. Mike’s will continue to be “a beacon of hope”—for Toronto and the world—for the level and quality of compassionate care it delivers to all members of our society.

THANK YOU, Scotiabank. Together, we will build the world’s healthiest city.

Learn more about MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions and how you can support our efforts.


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