Network of 100-plus social support agencies working to ensure Peel Region’s resurrection moves critical services beyond status quo
Feature image Claudia Soraya/Unsplash

Network of 100-plus social support agencies working to ensure Peel Region’s resurrection moves critical services beyond status quo

The cascading uncertainty around the dissolution of Peel Region and its many partners came to an end when the PCs announced on December 13 that the provincial government is officially walking back its controversial decision to pass Bill 112, the Hazel McCallion Act.

The Region of Peel will not be broken up.

While the surprise turnaround brought relief to thousands of regional employees and hundreds more working in partner organizations, leaders of local social service agencies say there should not be a return to status quo decision making. Now is the time, they say, to learn from the process that unfolded as plans were drawn up to move beyond the dissolution of Peel Region, plans that should now be applied to make the existing system far better.

From Peel’s woeful track record on affordable housing support (more than 30,000 households are currently on the waitlist for assistance), its ongoing status as a childcare desert, to mounting challenges around complex issues such as intimate partner violence, social services in the rapidly growing region have too often been an afterthought. Staff and elected officials have not met the challenges of a complex urbanizing region facing the types of problems that were rarely even considered a couple decades ago, when Peel’s small town, suburban leadership was overtaken by the consequences of hyper-growth and an overnight demographic shift—Mississauga and Brampton, two of Canada’s most popular destinations for immigrants, are now the country’s seventh and ninth largest cities. 

To ensure the most vulnerable residents would not fall through the cracks widened by the breakup of regional government, the Metamorphosis Network was formed.

From its conception, the umbrella organization was neither for or against the dissolution of Peel. It was formed with the goal of achieving enhanced client amenities, knowledge transfer and service improvements as a response to the prospect of having to deliver critical services across two of the country’s biggest cities and Caledon, under a completely different human services structure. A coalition of over 100 non-profit organizations and community groups in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, it sought to ensure the transition toward and beyond dissolution did not harm the region’s most vulnerable residents, and that delivery of critical support would continue with the least amount of disruption. 

If carried out, Bill 112 would have dissolved Ontario’s second largest municipality, with almost 1.6 million residents, at the start of 2025, a massive undertaking in a tight timeline. The prospect left clients, workers, unions and long-time partners of the Region of Peel wondering what would happen to their jobs and the service delivery once the three lower-tier municipalities became independent so quickly. For organizations that provide critical and even life-saving social services to communities—HIV/Aids support, harm reduction services, emergency meals and shelter—as well as the local citizens who rely on these vital supports, Peel’s looming dissolution put much more on the line for the Region’s most vulnerable populations, with the possibility of service disruptions posing a dire problem.

“The Metamorphosis Network was always about doing what we could to improve the quality of services,” Gurpreet Malhotra, CEO of Indus Community Services, told The Pointer. The idea behind the partnership was about “improving communication, improving the quality of service and doing what we can to make things better and avoid any disruption, if possible.” The network is led by a team of ten executive members of local social service groups that have been providing life-saving support and critical resources for vulnerable residents across the region for years.

“The disruption piece that would be caused by a very harsh, abrupt ending to the Region on January 1, 2025, that’s now been avoided, that's good news,” Malhotra said. “But at the same time, we understand that this has helped us figure out that there are many significant gaps in how services are being provided in the region, and essentially we are now seized of the issue that we need to do much more to address those gaps.”

Funding for social services through the upper-tier municipal government has historically lacked sufficient resources, a reality that was exposed when the COVID-19 pandemic, and the poor local response, made Peel a national hotspot throughout the public health crisis.

The unique demographics of the area, and complex socio-economic, cultural and ethno-religious dimensions, contributed to the challenges—critics of the PC government accused provincial leaders of discrimination, as Peel saw far fewer resources per capita provided by Queen’s Park for testing, frontline emergency hospital support and vaccine distribution, particularly in Brampton.

According to 2021 Census data on ethnic diversity, religion, and immigration, the Region of Peel is home to 18 percent of Ontario's immigrant population and 69 percent of its residents identify as a visible minority, more than any other regional or single-tier municipality in the province. Peel’s racialized population has increased by 72 percent since 2006. Many families in the Region faced greater risk of contracting COVID-19 due to social determinants, such as the high number of residents who worked in factory settings and industries that could not shut down, the lack of existing healthcare infrastructure prior to the pandemic, poor transportation alternatives for workers, inadequate affordable housing supply and a lack of culturally appropriate spaces for residents to isolate when they tested positive and should have been safely socially distancing.

Ray Applebaum, CEO of Peel Senior Link who also sits on Metamorphosis Network’s leadership team, told The Pointer it is moving forward with many of the same goals established when the organization was formed and continues to meet with the provincial Transition Board that was set up to oversee Peel’s breakup (it will now work to help regional government become more efficient). The focus is to “establish a relationship with the Transition Board that was coming on in the fall of this past year… to meet with them, to educate them about the services that we deliver, the complexity of Health and Human Services, and how that would be impacted for sure by the dissolution process, and to express concern about the impact, focusing on the impacts and the ability of the community sector to continue to adequately meet the needs of vulnerable populations.”

Jasminder Sehkon, President and CEO of GEquity Consulting, and Amandeep Kaur, Lead Policy Analyst with the firm, delegate to elected officials about the dire need for better funding to support survivors of intimate partner violence across Peel. 

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer) 


Malhotra highlighted how Peel Region receives lower per capita public health funding from the provincial government compared to municipalities like Toronto or Hamilton, a trend seen for at least two decades. “We have to, as community, as agencies, as residents, as City and Regional politicians, make that case clear to the provincial government, that we are not second-class provincial citizens, that we pay our fair share in taxes and should receive our fair share in services.” He talked about how the effect of negligent funding for social services became evident in the suffering that residents faced, and continue to face. 

Rapid population growth has not been accompanied with commensurate support, Malhotra says, placing particular stress on residents whose circumstances intersect with socio-economic issues that put them at risk of precarious living conditions or insecurity around obtaining basic yet essential needs.

The Feed Ontario’s 2022 Hunger Report highlights the impact of the initial COVID-19 pandemic on communities who lost work because of the lockdowns. When looking at how local Food Bank use shifted, the report states that in a number of communities, they were serving “more than double the people they had prior to the pandemic,” highlighting that some food banks reported seeing demand rising as high as 400 percent. Food bank use in Ontario did not stabilize after the pandemic lockdowns, the report found, stating that the demand has actually continued to rise.

Existing labour laws and a lack of adequate employment opportunities have contributed to creating significant barriers to “income security and the ability for Ontarians to afford their necessities each month,” the report highlights, with “the proportion of people with employment accessing food banks increasing an additional 16 percent between 2020 and 2022.”

“We have to get to the point where the resident is who we are all here to serve in whatever capacity we are. So why don't we work together so our libraries and our trans health systems and our [Ontario Works] systems and our health department and our rec systems and our agencies can create the best outcome for our families and people living here in Mississauga, Brampton, Caledon, in Peel,” Malhotra said. The need to make the human services system run more efficiently now that regional government is staying intact, is critical. The approach, he says, can not go back to the old way of doing things.

“There has got to be a way to make this smarter, to be able to build housing more effectively, to be able to understand that the social safety net is essential to a healthy and vibrant community, that many people use it at some point in their lives,” he said. “And many people only touch it for a short length of time, but having it there helps our community stay vibrant, keeps it alive, makes it an exciting and wonderful place to raise a family and attracts new business, attracts new talent…”.

He highlighted the importance of collaboration between all stakeholders, for the benefit of residents. “If we can just get to working together and get over the political positioning, and with the help of someone like the Transition Board convening us, and Metamorphosis gathering and highlighting potential improvements, along with City staff, Town staff and Regional staff, I think we could end up in a much better place than we started off.”

Malhotra told The Pointer the leadership team at the Metamorphosis Network has been meeting with the province’s Transition Board, which for the time being will remain in place until new legislation is passed to replace the Hazel McCallion Act. The PC government has stated publicly that it wants to make Peel’s government more efficient and effective, now that it is being kept intact. Housing and public health are two critical areas in dire need of improvement. “That might be a really useful way to continue to proceed, so the Metamorphosis Network stands ready to be able to work with the Transition Board and with all four municipal governments to gather information, to gather the facts, to find better ways to do things and without an unfair pressure on us, be able to navigate our way forward, so that we end up saving the taxpayer dollar, improving services, improving communication and at the end of the day, making life better for residents.” Malhotra said the dissolution process, in such a rushed timeline, posed problems that can now be avoided, but the sense of relief needs to quickly be replaced by a strategy to improve a system that was not working for a lot of residents. 

“We are in the middle of a storm and this is a bad time to reconstruct a home. One of those storms is the fact that we have refugees and asylum claimants who require support and additional support, that's what's putting so much pressure on our systems,” he emphasized. “That now becomes easier to do when you're not having a discussion about dismantling the house. You can talk about the storm and what you can do to weather that better… Now, with everyone being able to talk about future growth and services together, as opposed to how to dismantle what we've had in the past, that means that that kind of really important work can leap ahead.”

The Region of Peel recently shared a jarring report on the condition of housing and shelter support services it provides, describing a system struggling to keep up with unprecedented demand. “It is estimated that available resources meet 19 percent of core housing need in our community,” the report details. Regional data shows there are 91,000 households in core housing need, highlighting the “dramatic increases” in housing demand and critical need for proper homelessness support over the past decade. The Homelessness Policy and Programs update reported that approximately 102 asylum-claimants were living unsheltered outside Mississauga’s Dundas Street shelter, waiting for space, about a month ago with one death reported. The shelter system in Peel was operating at about 320 percent of capacity, at the time, up from about 250 percent at the beginning of October, with a 167 percent increase in known encampments across the region since 2022. Organizations like many of those in the Metamorphosis Network see first-hand how residents are being failed under the existing system. Asylum claimants are a significant portion of people increasingly experiencing homelessness, with the report highlighting that 62 percent of those in Peel shelters or its overflow system are refugees. 

Sharon Mayne Devine, CEO Catholic Family Services, Safe Centre of Peel, has advocated for better social services funding in Peel for years.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)


Metamorphosis Network intends to continue meeting with the provincial Transition Board to go forward with its work, though he said the process is very fluid with the recent news of the reversal, and a lack of clarity about what the future of Peel Region will look like, as an official policy is established. “We're working towards preparing documentation that we will share with the Transition Board that will identify the complexity of…services currently being provided, what we see as the gap in services, because there are significant gaps and concerns,” Applebaum said. The network has recommendations for “how we can move forward better in the future, how can we better serve a community, not just the status quo, what we know today, but we really are looking to the province to provide resources to fill those gaps so that we can do a better job as we move forward, including, of course, cost efficiency, which is always something that the nonprofit sector continues to be focused on.” 

The renewed focus, now that the Region will stay intact, is to work toward addressing gaps in the system and improving the quality of service delivery and efficiency of the model, so that ultimately, residents are properly served. Advocacy to upper levels of government, to finally get fair-share funding, using benchmarks and comparators, will be a key. Federal and provincial funding for housing, childcare, elderly care, public health, shelter support, emergency family support and a range of other needs does not meet Peel’s population growth. Funding formulas that were previously skewed, have fallen further behind for hyper-growth communities such as Mississauga and Brampton, where the Region’s public health department, for example, is one of the poorest in the province, on a per capita funding basis.

“I think the voice that we've created is not ours alone, I think it's a shared voice, it's a community voice that we really want to be able to continue with,” Applebaum said. There is an opportunity, he added, to take the relationship that has been built with the Transition Board and build on it, so that the provincial government can understand where the gaps and needs of the Region and its residents are, and be pushed to meet them. “We want to be able to come up with something better at the end of the day, and I think that's really our intent, is that we can take this moment in time and say to the province, ‘look, if we're going to transition to somewhere, let's make it better for the people who live here,’ and the only way we're going to get their attention is by doing our homework.”

Jillian Watkins, Executive Director of Moyo Health & Community Services (formerly Peel HIV/AIDS Network), one of the local groups in the Metamorphosis Network, told The Pointer there was too little detail about what life was going to look like after dissolution to be able to truly tell whether there was an opportunity for a better model than regional government. The focus landed more on things that worked well and might have been lost, especially due to the quick timeline the province originally set out in its legislation. 

Now that the decision has been reversed, she said there are “a lot of benefits of…having so many community organizations at the same table,” to collectively brainstorm the shared challenges and barriers faced by all the stakeholders. Many of the issues are common across the social services sector. “One of the reasons we were concerned about dissolution was we felt like, already, there wasn't sufficient funding for small community organizations, and that's not just at the Regional level,” she said, pointing out the persistent issue of inequitable funding from the provincial and federal governments. 

A 2021 Community Food Justice Research Project report and toolkit by Peel Food Action Council spoke to the need for better advocacy and education around issues like food insecurity in Peel. Better support from all levels of government is needed. It recommended reviewing policies and pushing for ones that build improved infrastructure and reimagining how social services like food banks are “designed and led,” to better address not just the immediate needs they fill, but to also operate in a way that addresses intersecting issues residents in Peel face, such as employment and housing discrimination. During its meetings with the Transition Board, Metamorphosis Network leaders shared that they are collecting and analyzing data and statistics to illustrate known gaps in the existing regional model so they can finally be addressed by regional and provincial decision makers. 

“I hope, through the Metamorphosis Network, that there's potential for advocating for additional funding and potentially new and creative ways that that funding can be dispersed across organizations that are serving similar vulnerable communities,” Watkins said, signalling that some of that is already happening. “I hope that there's something positive that comes out of all of the disruption that's been caused by… the announcement of dissolution,” then the reversal and all the discourse that has taken place, which has generated “a lot of conversation about the needs of vulnerable residents of Peel and where challenges existed already.”

She hopes that through ongoing conversations there will be a shared understanding of opportunities for joint advocacy and collaboration with different levels of government, to ensure the most critical programs are  properly funded, especially as needs continue to rise with the growing population. 


Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @_hafsaahmed

At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories to ensure every resident of Brampton, Mississauga and Niagara has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you

Submit a correction about this story