Creating pathways out of poverty through education

The Need

The power of education cannot be overstated. A post-secondary education is the stepping stone to achieving one’s career and personal goals. Sadly, for marginalized individuals in the city of Toronto, access to post-secondary education is hampered by financial and emotional/psychological obstacles.


Only 53% of the homeless population graduate high school compared to 90% of the general population.

Toronto has the second highest homeless population of any Canadian city, with an average of 5,250 people who are homeless on the streets every night.

Ve’ahavta’s Theory of Change

  • By removing obstacles and providing an educational program uniquely tailored to the needs of marginalized individuals, we can support positive change in their lives.
  • By creating a safe environment where program participants can renew their sense of self worth, we can create a psychological shift that will pave the way for them to realize their potential.
  • By engaging skilled community members as volunteer facilitators, we can offer high quality expertise, while also inspiring them to value the contribution marginalized individuals can make to society.
  • By developing an individualized, personal and education plan for each participant, we can further their personal and professional life goals in a sustainable way.

Program Description

The Ve’ahavta Street Academy (VSA), is an innovative and powerful 9–week adult education program created for vulnerable individuals who are marginally housed, many of whom have mental health and/or substance use issues. The program is held on the campus of George Brown College in Toronto. This vibrant campus atmosphere offers students the experience of an educational environment and nurtures their sense of belonging.

This Essential Skills training program is designed to reduce marginalization, and decrease social isolation. The program addresses the physical, emotional, social and intellectual needs of each student with compassion, and validates the valuable contribution they can make to society. It offers people practical tools and supports that will empower them to set and pursue their goals, creating pathways through education and career exploration.

VSA is highly effective and unique in that it provides:

  • Practical group personal development and career exploration workshops
  • Vocational assessments and individual program plans
  • Peer-led approach and qualified program staff with lived experience
  • Emphasis on building social connections
  • Facilitators include professors, community leaders and industry experts
  • Stipend provided for good attendance
  • One-on-one support from a case manager for six months post-program
  • Alumni program for ongoing support

The program’s extraordinary success has led to its rapid growth. Since the initial VSA pilot in 2010, Ve’ahavta has added multiple sessions to accommodate the growing demand.

VSA Bridge and Alumni Programs

The VSA Bridge and Alumni Programs were implemented in order to support VSA graduates through information sharing as well as the provision of guidance, hope and inspiration as they pursue their goals. Through the Alumni Program, VSA graduates remain engaged in a positive peer environment and acquire a sense of belonging. They participate in various activities including monthly meetings, learn from guest speakers and receive referrals to community resources.

Call to Action

Apply to VSA as a student. Learn about becoming a VSA Volunteer Facilitator.


“Firstly, this program offered me so much of what I want and need to feel welcome, and that I belonged. It made me aware that human beings are designed and built to overcome. It helped me remind myself that successful people are people who are willing to do whatever unsuccessful people are unwilling to do. The strong connection and exposure to like-minded individuals was a refreshing and long sought after experience. What I perceived to be IMPOSSIBLE is now becoming POSSIBLE.”

– Carlos Lopes, VSA Graduate


Ron MacLean, Honorary Chair of the Ve’ahavta Street Academy, Host of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.

“I’ve seen the brave and the broken. And I’ve wondered, is there a portal from one to the other and back? In all my experience, the greatest classroom I’ve entered is not a place, but an idea; an initiative called The Ve’ahavta Street Academy. Teachers such as myself interact with students, in what can only be described as an exploration of wisdom.

At Ve’ahavta Street Academy I see a window thrown open, and understanding shine in; a program which educates and inspires.

I have taught a class each semester for 5 years now, and am constantly moved and informed by the process. The students are empowered.”

– Ron MacLean

Advisory Members:

Sharon Brodovsky
Mark Fox
Kate Gies
Marla Goldstone
Reena Kronitz
Brian Ricciardi
Edie Saunders
Diane Spivak
Anat Wertheim

With Support From