New Report Calls for Systemic Change to Address Homelessness and Mental Health in Northern Ontario


According to a new report on homelessness, mental health and addictions, the Ontario government should commit to funding services at « northern service centres » to reflect the needs of the regional populations they serve.

The call to recognize northern service centers in law appears in a 20-page report the Northern Policy Institute (NPI) released on Wednesday titled “More than just numbers.”

It is designed to serve as a lobbying document for municipal leaders to leverage systemic support from higher levels of government that would resolve what NPI researchers call a “crisis” in the North.

« It’s a huge crisis in northern Ontario right now and a lot of these things are interrelated, » said Holly Parsons, the report’s author. « Wrap-around supports are key. When you think about all the connections between these elements, I think we continue to emphasize how many different strategies and angles need to be adopted. »

« Unique Challenges » in Northern Ontario

The document calls on Ontario to amend the Health Protection and Promotion Act, defining a « northern service centre », then to « mandate the provincial government to provide additional support to these communities through reserve funds or others”.

Parsons wants to see a balance between available resources and needs.

His research found that the province has designed a system in which housing, health and social services in many northern municipalities serve an unrecognized population migrating from far beyond their borders. She found that these migrants – a “significant proportion” of whom are indigenous – come to find underfunded services, gaps in services and, ultimately, municipally funded services of last resort.

“Service centers in Northern Ontario face unique challenges with respect to their homeless populations: the immigration of people from surrounding rural and remote communities to access employment, education and health and social services that do not exist in their communities,” the report said. bed.

“Removed from their familiar surroundings and support systems, migrants often find themselves without the financial means to support themselves or return to their communities and, as a result, become dependent on emergency shelters and other social services. «

The final document is refined from a draft report obtained by CBC in April, which depicts a clear convergence of social issues in Northern Ontario – one it found municipalities lack the budgetary capacity to attack on their own.

He revealed that five of the 11 northern districts have a higher rate of homelessness per capita than Toronto, with two others just behind. Every district has an increasing rate of opioid-related hospitalizations. And each of the 163 municipalities in Northern Ontario is officially considered a “high physician need region”.

City leaders discuss changes

Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association President Wendy Landry said regional leaders are already leading discussions to begin defining northern service centers and building on the report’s evidence that shows the cost of extreme poverty. .

“Housing, homelessness, mental health and addictions are all part of the transfer of our municipal costs for policing, emergency services and hospital services. If we don’t get to the root of social problems, it will continue to cost municipalities money,” Landry said.

“I hope we have enough information and enough passion behind our advocacy – I know we have an ear – to have influence, so that the government sees that we have solutions to our health and how to solve problems that are only getting worse. »

Wendy Landry is Mayor of Shuniah and President of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

The document makes eight recommendations that the NPI says have been proven to bring about change and fit within the government’s mandate.

These include mandating mobile crisis response units to reduce pressure on the police; fund major repairs and new housing-first construction; Indigenous-focused housing and programming; provincial support to address the shortage of health professionals; and establish a physical or virtual center of excellence in mental health and addictions in the North.

NPI’s report was released a week before the annual meetings of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, which are scheduled to begin Aug. 14 in Ottawa.



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