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Building Bridges: Co-creating financial empowerment strategies with low-income individuals

30 May 2024
Author: Wendy Abbott-Serroul
In a country as prosperous as Canada, the statistic that 5.8 million people live in poverty is a stark reminder of the inequities that persist. In Durham Region, they are tackling this issue head-on by empowering low-income community members through innovative financial strategies. One such initiative is the operation of over 20 volunteer tax clinics across local agencies. The network of volunteer tax clinic partners has witnessed the profound impact of these services on residents’ well-being. Yet, there remains a pressing need to expand outreach and develop deeper financial empowerment strategies that can help move individuals out of poverty.

The Initiative

This led to a significant initiative, the Building Bridges Together project supported by Durham College’s Social Impact Hub, funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and led by Professor Lorraine Closs from the Faculty of Social and Community Services. The goal of the project is to identify and co-create innovations that breakdown access barriers to financial literacy and services for people experiencing low income.  As is the case throughout Canada, local data indicated that every year millions of dollars that are earmarked for low-income individuals are left unclaimed because people are not filing their taxes.  Therefore, one of the cornerstones of the project was to understand why people are not filing taxes, and what specific barriers existed in Durham region that deterred or hindered low-income individuals getting their taxes filed. The goal was to test out financial empowerment strategies that might lift people out of poverty and disrupt the intergenerational cycle of poverty including these key objectives:
  1. To uncover community-specific barriers to tax filing and reasons for non-filing among low-income residents in Durham Region.
  2. To use a co-production approach by collaborating with people living on low income to understand their financial literacy needs.
  3. To employ participatory action research principles, involving low-income individuals as equal partners in co-creating innovative solutions.
  4. To provide evidence supporting these co-produced strategies, which can then be utilized by other regions across Canada.
The Execution

The co-design team included a research steering committee, people with lived experience of poverty and community service providers including Prosper Canada and the Canadian Revenue Agency.
The co-created innovation that was launched is the Financial Help Hub (FHH). This is a free, walk-up, touch screen kiosk that provides information on financial aid supports in the Durham Region including information on free tax filing, food, shelter and financial assistance. It also provides financial literacy assistance from various organizations including: Prosper Canada’s Making the most of your money tool, access to the 211 helpline, and connecting people to further local social services, programs and community supports through the living with low income website created by the Regional Municipality of Durham ( It was launched in March 2024 at the McLaughlin Branch of the Oshawa Public Library and includes data analytics and a short survey for users.
Insights from April - May 2024

The initial data collected from the Financial Help Hub has been both enlightening and encouraging. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve learned so far:

User Engagement

Within the first month, the FHH attracted 116 users, with each spending between 14 and 40 minutes on the site. This level of engagement suggests that users are finding the platform valuable enough to invest their time in exploring its resources. 

Most Visited Websites
  • ​​Living with Low Income (108 visits)
  • City of Oshawa—Unsheltered and Homelessness (29 visits)
  • City of Oshawa—Warming Calendar (10 visits)
  • 211 Central (6 visits)
  • Homelessness in Durham (4 visits)
  • Dental and Oral Health—Region of Durham (4 visits) 
Search Patterns

Many users searched for housing and homelessness supports, indicating a critical area of need. The hub was most frequently used on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, suggesting these might be optimal days for targeted outreach and support services. 

User Feedback
  • 82% of users found the FHH very easy or easy to use.
  • 73% found the financial help information they were looking for.
  • 81% rated the information on the FHH as very useful or useful.
  • 46% discovered information on the FHH that they couldn't find elsewhere.
These insights highlight the importance and effectiveness of the Financial Help Hub in addressing the financial literacy and support needs of low-income individuals. The positive user feedback reinforces our commitment to making the FHH an essential resource in the fight against poverty.
The focus moving forward will remain on engaging with the community, understanding their evolving needs, and refining the strategies to ensure that the Financial Help Hub continues to serve as a vital bridge to financial empowerment.  

This is a demonstration of how various organizations working together can build a more inclusive and supportive community where everyone can thrive.

For more information on how your organization or municipality can integrate financial empowerment strategies into your efforts, contact: John Stephenson, Manager, Program Delivery and Integration at

Additional information on the Building Bridges Together Project in the Durham Region contact Lorraine Closs at


Wendy Abbott-Serroul is the Senior Marketing and Communications Manager at Prosper Canada. She works closely with the entire organization to identify communications needs and supports the efforts to increase awareness and the profile of Prosper Canada.

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