Sixth FOCUS Table Launches

By Ashling Murphy, Toronto Police Service Published: noon October 7, 2021

Drafted on behalf of TPS, United Way Greater Toronto and the City of Toronto:

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Toronto sign at City Hall

“Everybody that came together to help my son and I through an unbelievable situation can never be thanked enough. I'm sure it wasn't easy getting everybody lined up to tackle my problems, but they did it. My thanks goes out to every single person that had a hand in helping me out.”  

This is just one of many comments from community members who have benefited from the collaborative FOCUS (Furthering Our Communities by Uniting Services) tables. The Toronto Police Service Gun & Gang Task Force referred this case to one of the community partners, who brought it to the local FOCUS table. The individual, whose anonymity is protected through FOCUS, had been impacted by a gun and gang investigation at their residence and was connected with various supports through FOCUS to help them move forward. 

FOCUS is a shared partnership and collaborative approach, equally led by the Toronto Police Service (TPS), the City of Toronto and United Way Greater Toronto. It’s a model built on the principles of collaboration and risk-driven response, moving the service system away from reactionary incident-driven responses requiring emergency services to preventative wrap-around responses that require the social service system. 

FOCUS York launched in the area bordering 12 and 13 Divisions this week, following expansion earlier this year into 41, 32, and 22 Divisions. With six tables now in operation including Rexdale, Scarborough, Downtown East, Downtown West, Black Creek and York, FOCUS continues to be better equipped to help more vulnerable Torontonians.

Situations that FOCUS collaborates on are those demonstrating acutely elevated risk. This means any situation where circumstances indicate an extremely high probability of crisis, harm or victimization of individuals, families, groups or places. This includes, but is not limited to, situations involving mental health, youth violence prevention, human trafficking, violent extremism and gang involvement. If left unattended, these situations would likely require a variety of emergency responses, or the potential for physical or psychological harm to one’s self and others.

It was a huge weight lifted. If it weren't for the people that arranged all this help… I don't know where I'd be today and what my mind frame would have been like

Referrals come to FOCUS by the TPS, the City of Toronto or any of the over 145 community agency partners. The FOCUS tables meet six times per week across the city to review and respond to these situations and work together to provide support, usually within 24-48 hours. 

Officers attending a call and observing an individual or family in need of help would typically have to call each individual agency for assistance.  However, FOCUS enables a coordinated action that leverages community resources and leadership in a single meeting. The group develops an intervention plan and connects individuals and families with the services they need to mediate immediate risks and prevent the need for emergency responses.

Since it began as a pilot project in Rexdale in 2013, FOCUS has received over 4,000 situations involving more than 5,500 individuals. Risks have been lowered at least 80 per cent of the time, with the individuals and families accepting and being connected to services. 

Leveraging the skills and resources of diverse community and government partners allows FOCUS to respond to these situations using a coordinated approach, providing the community with the best possible intervention and response. One key benefit is that FOCUS also uses intervention as a prevention model. Not only can police and other agencies help those who have pressing needs through a simplified process, it also moves people away from crisis response and reduces the amount of calls coming in to 9-1-1.  If individuals and families receive the appropriate community supports they need, they are no longer calling 9-1-1 because they’re connected and provided with stability.

By strategically breaking down silos and utilizing existing resources within the various partners, FOCUS provides immediate, coordinated, and integrated responses to address situations facing imminent harm. 

Ongoing investment in all FOCUS partners means a better collaboration of services, offering the most appropriate responses and resources, before the situation becomes a policing issue. It demonstrates how important continued and equal upstream investment in our community services and agencies is, to offer a holistic approach to those in need in our communities.  

FOCUS aligns with the City of Toronto’s and the United Way’s community development strategies to ensure individuals and families have the essential services they need for stability, safety and wellbeing. The model also connects directly with the TPS Gun & Gang strategy framework and calls for a sustained process of co‐ordination and continuous improvement in partnership with communities, stakeholders and service providers aimed at reducing the impact of gun and gang activity. By boosting prevention, intervention, and strategic enforcement efforts through initiatives like FOCUS, we can accomplish this goal.

Through its weekly meetings, the group builds solid relationships and an awareness of the services each agency provides. They share best and promising practices, current trends and systemic issues. The community partners are comfortable reaching out to one another and direct connections are being made outside of the table because of these relationships. For the three partners, this describes a foundation and investment across the sector, resulting in collaboration and case management at its best. 

“It was a huge weight lifted. If it weren't for the people that arranged all this help… I don't know where I'd be today and what my mind frame would have been like.” – Anonymous FOCUS client.

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