Charitable Choices: Lin Sallay of Street Health

Lin Sallay leads Street Health, a vital organization supporting the city’s homeless and marginalized communities since 1986. With a mission rooted in harm reduction and compassionate care, Street Health offers essential services ranging from primary healthcare to housing support. Under Sallay’s guidance, the organization continues to adapt and expand its reach, advocating for systemic change and amplifying the voices of those in need.

Street Health

Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.

Street Health’s story began back in 1986 when people living on the streets voiced a clear preference for nurses as their trusted healthcare providers. This inspired a group of volunteer nurses to kickstart clinics, eventually laying the foundation for Street Health. We’ve always been deeply committed to a harm reduction approach to our services, focusing on dismantling the systemic barriers to health.

Our services cover a wide array of essential aspects, ranging from community mental health support and helping with identification documents to providing secure mailing addresses for those dealing with housing insecurity. We offer welcoming harm reduction drop-ins, engaging community volunteer kit-making sessions, and education programs. Our outreach workers, who include people who bring lived experience to their role, connect with people across the downtown East region, for example at encampments, at temporary shelters, and in parks/on the streets. They not only address immediate needs but also challenge the discrimination and stigma that can discourage individuals from seeking healthcare. In 2019, we opened an Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) and have added a Safer Opioid Supply program, which helps clients reduce or replace their dependence on the poison street drug supply. This initiative is a lifeline for our clients, offering them a way to reduce or replace their reliance on the dangerous street drug supply, leading to safer and healthier lives. In addition, our housing support workers are also instrumental in helping those accessing housing through St.Clare’s maintain their housing, supporting housing stability. We also make a positive impact on our community by providing essential personal care and hygiene products, in addition to seasonal necessities.

What problem does it aim to solve?

Street Health aims to address the complex healthcare-related challenges faced by individuals experiencing homelessness in Toronto. We provide essential healthcare services, including primary care, mental health support, harm reduction, and substance use services, to those who often have limited access to traditional healthcare services. Additionally, Street Health also works to advocate for changes to improve the well-being and dignity of marginalized populations.

When did you start/join it?

Started in July 2023

What made you want to get involved?

Having worked in the mental health and addictions field for over 25 years, I was drawn to Street Health because of its rich history of giving and supporting people since 1986 as well as this organization’s mission, vision and values. The values of providing low-barrier, non-judgement, person-centred care very much align with my own values and is very important to Street Health.

How has it changed since?

Street Health has long supported people who struggle with mental health and substance use issues, extreme poverty, chronic unemployment, housing insecurity, homelessness, poor nutrition, high stress, trauma, and isolation. Over the years, client needs have increased and become more complex due to a lack of resources such as housing, long wait lists, and the cost of living in our city.

Street Health

What more needs to be done?

We need a strong and stable pipeline of housing options, shelter and primary care availability for people who are homeless or under-housed. We also need to address the toxic drug crisis which has claimed the lives of over 42,000 Canadians. Supporting supervised consumption services such as Street Health’s Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) truly helps address this issue. At our OPS, trained staff prevent and respond to potential overdoses. This service saves lives!

How can our readers help?

We strive to be able to provide high-quality, sustainable care to our clients, and one of the best ways readers can help is by donating or becoming a part of our monthly donor group – Street Health Allies. By contributing financially, we can continue providing essential services to our clients.

Donating supplies, such as hygiene products, socks, underwear, sleeping bags, etc. can also directly support our ability to serve clients’ immediate needs on a daily basis. A great way readers can help is by organizing a collection within your network of essential items and dropping them off at our 338 Dundas St E. building. You can learn more about the kinds of items we have a steady demand for on our website.

Finally, learning more and sharing information about Street Health’s mission and programs to help raise awareness about the work we do can also be an effective way to help. By educating yourself about harm reduction and spreading awareness, we can work together to fight the stigma surrounding important harm reduction practices that are important to the work being done at Street Health. Whether on social media, word of mouth, or amongst your networks, spreading awareness of our organization can help us reach a wider audience and continue to grow our support base.

Do you have any events coming up?

Every winter, we host a Coldest Night of the Year event in which we invite people to create teams and help us fundraise to reach our goal. The event consists of a community walk led by members of our staff who elaborate on the kinds of services provided by Street Health and can answer questions about the growing problem of homelessness in Toronto. We encourage people to keep an eye out for our event next winter, on February 22, 2025, and to join a team to help support our mission!

Where can we follow you?

Website | Facebook | Instagram

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction (TIHR) is an awesome local charity. TIHR emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic in response to the shutdown of other services and a lack of basic needs for Indigenous homeless residents in Toronto. To learn more about their work, check out their website.


About Emilea Semancik 100 Articles
Emilea Semancik was born in North Vancouver. Emilea has always always wanted to freelance her own pieces and currently writes for the Vancouver Guardian. She is also a recipe author working towards publishing her own series of recipe books. You can find her recipes on Instagram. @ancestral.foods