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House to House: Civic engagement turns learners into leaders

House to House: Civic engagement turns learners into leaders

The Winter 2020 House to House has arrived! Click here to read the full newsletter. 

Before this year, Manza hadn’t thought much about local issues. Now, this participant in West Neighbourhood House’s adult-learning program regularly attends public meetings, contributes his thoughts to city consultations on affordable housing, and encourages fellow learners to do the same.

He’s just one among hundreds who have benefitted from our yearlong effort to increase civic engagement across the House.

This fall he was part of a group of adult-learning program participants who gave their input to improve a new toolkit.

It’s a colourful, visual handout that explains how the city land-use planning process works and how communities can advocate for benefits like affordable housing and green space. His advice, along with that of other learners, was used to create a final product that is accessible to audiences with varying levels of literacy and language fluency. It debuted at a fall housing forum for the Bloor-Dundas community and will be used by agencies and advocates across Toronto.

In the spring, adult learners like Manza — as well as seniors, newcomers, and other program participants — gave their input at affordable-housing consultations held at the House. As a result, we sent a detailed report to the city that helped inform Toronto’s new 10-year housing strategy.

Housing advocacy has become Manza’s passion. He recently gave a deputation about inclusionary zoning, a proposed city policy that would require new developments to include affordable housing. It was videotaped and played at a council meeting.

“People in this city need houses,” he says. “Without housing, a lot of things are more difficult.”

One lasting initiative is the civic engagement group, an adult-learning class that teaches critical-thinking skills through discussions of current events and participation in the real-life political process.

Serena, the staff member who facilitates the group with volunteers, has seen a huge difference in learners in just a few months.

“The conversation has changed from, ‘We’re learning, but not doing anything,’ to, ‘We’re actually getting to do something,’” she says.

Our civic-engagement initiative has helped Manza become an affordable-housing advocate.