Toronto’s social services have their roots in the 1830s charity model of the “House of Industry,” the original “relief” or social assistance office for Toronto’s homeless and unemployed; orphaned and abandoned children; recent immigrants; and the families of servicemen. In addition, early immigrant self-help groups, such as those begun out of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Corktown (an early Irish enclave in Toronto), which founded the House of Providence, also laid the groundwork for the social service sector.
In the 1940s, government began to assume more of these services, and, starting in the 1970s, many staff associations for children’s aid services, developmental services, child care workers, and non-unionized community-based social service agencies began to merge into unions, or to join them. These were followed by settlement agencies and those offering homecare, English as a Second Language, and employment training.
A successful point of resistance to the Conservative Harris agenda in 1996-‘97 was the Toronto Association for Community Living’s three-month strike against an employer demanding massive concessions as a result of provincial funding cuts. Another key piece of resistance was the province-wide walkout by childcare workers, including non-union workers, who understood that Harris’ proposed cut to childcare subsidies meant underfunding the entire system. The entire social services sector continues to be faced with funding issues, in spite of wide recognition of its importance to the health of every community.