June 19, 2024

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Mental health group pitches province on supportive housing fund

3 min read

The Canadian Mental Health Association is asking the province to establish a fund for providing supportive housing

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park

The Canadian Mental Health Association is urging the Ontario government not to forget about supportive housing as it seeks to build 1.5 million homes by 2031.

“The provincial government’s focus on affordable housing overlooks an important segment of the housing continuum: housing with supports,” the group wrote in a pre-budget submission shared with The Trillium. “Supportive housing helps to reduce homelessness and connects service users with wraparound mental health and substance use supports. Evidence shows that models of housing with support can help a person’s journey to recovery from even a severe mental health issue.”

To that end, the Ontario chapter of the nationwide community mental health care provider is asking the province to spend $33 million in its next budget on a new Community Supportive Housing Innovation Fund (CSHIF).

“This fund would allow us to come to the table with dollars that would contribute to housing starts or housing supports in communities,” said Camille Quenneville, CEO of CMHA Ontario. 

CMHAs have “by name” lists of people who need to be housed and what kind of support they need, and the fund would allow them to partner with municipalities on the supportive housing projects to get them off the street, she said.

CMHA Ontario also wants the government to create an interministerial working group “to ensure government decision-making around housing with supports is co-ordinated, accountable, and outcomes-driven.”

The problem, it says in the pre-budget submission, is the responsibility for supportive housing is shared between several ministries — including Health, Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Solicitor General and others.

“The government has announced funding to build more supportive units without accompanying operating dollars for community agencies to provide the necessary mental health or addictions supports. This model simply doesn’t work and our sector can’t be expected to use scarce operating dollars to provide in-kind services any longer,” it says.

CMHA Ontario is also asking for a funding increase of 7 per cent — $110 million — to stabilize the community mental health and addictions sector, following a five-per cent increase granted last year.

That went toward increasing staff compensation, but it is still struggling to recruit and retain mental health workers, said Quenneville.

The CMHA has partnered with other community health organizations to ask Queen’s Park address their sector’s “critical staffing crisis” and bring wages in line with peers in health care, such as hospitals.

The wage disparity is partly due to the government’s wage-restraint legislation known as Bill 124, which limited salary increases to 1 per cent for three years. While many workers, including civil servants and hospital-based health-care workers negotiated catch-up payments after the bill was ruled unconstitutional, that’s not the case for CMHA’s workers.

At the same time, mental health workers are serving a more complex and demanding population than ever before, said Quenneville.

“What we’re finding at the grassroots level in our branches is that we have much higher need,” she said. “We’re seeing people who are much more ill, and many of whom have comorbidities. So they could have a very serious addiction and, as a result, are struggling with their mental health or vice versa. So it’s the kind of care that is no longer in a spectrum, which is something we saw pre-pandemic, we now just see people who have much greater needs.”

Homelessness and encampments have also made it difficult for mental health workers to serve clients in the community, the CMHA said in its submission.

“The community mental health and addictions sector is an essential part of an efficient health-care system that helps Ontarians stay out of hospitals and correctional facilities, among the costliest forms of care.”

 

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