Canada’s FCM Big City Mayors Meet to Address Mental Health Crisis in Canadian Cities

By: Kw Now Local News
| Published 04/16/2021

We need wrap-around, ongoing mental health & addiction services & supports

Canada’s FCM Big City Mayors Meet to Address Mental Health Crisis in Canadian Cities

'By the time somebody comes to our shelter, they could've had a lifetime of mental health and abuse issues.' - John Neufeld

Kitchener – Today, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic along with stakeholders and mayors from some of Canada’s biggest cities met to discuss the urgent need to address Canada’s mental health crisis. Mayor Vrbanovic was joined by local stakeholders, Helen Fishburn, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo-Wellington, and John Neufeld, Executive Director of the House of Friendship, who has been championing their ShelterCare approach to supportive housing. The meeting was convened by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Big City Mayors’ Caucus (BCMC) as part of its multi-year Urban Project initiative.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded mental health issues, which were already one of the most critical crises facing cities and communities across Canada and around the world. Action requires cross-sector collaboration, and this Urban Project meeting brought mayors together with academics, practitioners, and others to develop a mental health toolkit for Canada’s cities.

“Mental health issues have serious impacts on the individuals who are struggling as well as others throughout our community,” said City of Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic. “Cities and businesses can’t thrive economically and socially if we don’t address the mental health challenges faced by some of our citizens. We know that when one person struggles with mental health issues, it not only impacts that person directly, but it also impacts their family, friends and businesses throughout the community. Early prevention and ongoing treatment will go a long way to support individuals and our community.”

Mental health issues have been slowly de-stigmatized over the past number of years, but there is still a long way to go. The prevention and treatment of mental health issues needs to be viewed in the same way as people who suffer physical injuries, like broken arms or trauma from car accidents. Although mental health has received some additional resources in recent years, it still seems to lag behind in the health care system.

“In order to take mental health support to the next level, we really need to develop national standards,” said Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington CEO Helen Fishburn. “For example, we are the only G7 country to not have a national suicide prevention framework. We need an integrated, resourced, all-of-government national mental health strategy if we are going to make a significant impact on mental health issues in Canada.”

Mental health issues can manifest in different ways, including homelessness and addiction. Recently, governments have announced more support for affordable housing, which is welcome news for municipalities and local organizations. While more housing is still needed, constructing mental health treatment centres with wrap-around services needs to also be considered. These centres, along with staffing, are needed so people with mental health issues can continue their rehabilitation, instead of having people in and out of the justice system or emergency rooms.

“Mental health issues can be quite complex,” said House of Friendship Executive Director John Neufeld. “By the time somebody comes to our shelter, they could have had a lifetime of mental health and abuse issues, which they are coping with through addiction and results in living on the street. Shelters are a part of the solution, but we need wrap-around, ongoing mental health and addiction services and supports to really help these people get their lives back on track. While our Sheltercare program has been successful at providing these wrap-around services and supports, we know that we need more of these programs and services to make a significant difference across Canada. This can only be done with a coordinated national strategy, sustainable and ongoing funding, and with all orders of government at the table and working together.”

About The Urban Project

Across Canada and around the world, cities are on the front lines of the most complex challenges of 21st century life. From immigration, affordable housing, and the need for new infrastructure, to adapting to advances in technology, urban mobility, and the impacts of climate change.

Yet too often, those of us responsible for working together to solve municipal challenges find ourselves working solo, without access to the best ideas from our peers across the country. The challenges that Canadian cities face often point back to the need for greater municipal empowerment, and that demands fresh perspectives from all corners of city life. Enter the Urban Project – a unique proposal to strengthen relationships and leverage expertise across all orders of government, civil society, the private sector, and academia. Our goal is simple: Take on the big challenges facing cities, and generate the action and ideas needed to solve them.

This is where action begins. Together, we will act to promote, build, and share innovative and scalable local best practices to tackle these challenges.

Mission Statement: Empowering Cities

Over three years, the Urban Project will help solve our most pressing urban challenges by creating practical, action-oriented platforms for mayors and city staff, civic and business leaders, federal and provincial decision-makers, and academic thought-leaders. These action plans will get to the heart of what it means to empower municipalities. The touchstones of the Urban Project are 10 events over three years covering a series of pressing urban issues. Each event will generate bold new ideas, showcase best practices from across the country, expose knowledge gaps that can be filled, and challenge participants to test the boundaries of what Canada’s big cities can achieve. These thematic events will not stand alone. While each event will tackle one of the challenges facing cities, what unifies each event is a call for greater municipal empowerment and autonomy, so cities can deliver for the millions of Canadians they serve.

When you engage with the Urban Project, you will be part of a group that is informing urgent city-building issues; generating scalable solutions to address them; and bringing public and political attention to these opportunities.