With a ballooning caseload and the threat of budgetary dollars evaporating next month, yesterday’s (May 24) announcement the provincial funding tap is to be turned on couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the local branch of the CMHA and the St. Thomas Police Service.
The significance of the announcement was underscored through the appearance of a pair of Ford government heavyweights on hand for the investment news.
Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones, accompanied by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliott, took to the podium outside the police station on CASO Crossing to announce $70,775 in funding that will allow a CMHA caseworker to continue working with the police service’s mobile crisis intervention team.
Back in 2017, the service was the recipient of a one-time $91,000 grant from the provincial government which allowed for the hiring of Canadian Mental Health Association response worker Alex Paterson.
After a couple of extensions from the CMHA and the city, the funding was due to dry up at the end of June.
Friday’s announcement of ongoing provincial support will allow Police Chief Chris Herridge to continue utilizing Paterson – contingent on CMHA approval – who will work with police “to engage individuals in crisis, de-escalate high-pressure situations and connect individuals with necessary health supports,” according to a media release.
The good news didn’t end there, however.
CMHA Elgin will also benefit from a $70,575 funding infusion for a post-court transitional case manager to support individuals with mental illness who are released on bail, found not guilty or released without detention to engage community mental health services and supportive housing.
Flanked by police officers, Mayor Joe Preston and city officials, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP noted Paterson last year had “477 direct contacts with members of the community” through police calls for service and had become “quite a trusted fixture in our police force.”
Yurek continued, “Since last fall, the chief has become a constant source of conversations, either on Twitter, through phone calls or in person and every time we had the same conversation which I, in turn, relayed and became a pest to our two ministers behind us.”
“And our mental health program is a perfect example of the approach we need for the citizens of St. Thomas and our policing family.”
Turning to Chief Herridge, Jones observed “I love the fact that you, chief, were able to give very specific examples of how it (the crisis intervention team) has impacted individual lives. How we have been able to divert people who . . . you would think end up in the justice system, but with the right intervention at the right time, can start finding help with our communities.”
Elliott noted the announcement was “almost like a dream come true. Something we have talked about for over 10 years that you here have already undertaken and doing so brilliantly.”
She continued, “We’ve heard about the need for continued support for mobile crisis intervention teams and today, with my colleagues, I’m proud to say we have listened and will be providing additional funding.”
It is part of the additional $174 million the province is investing in mental health and addiction services across the province, including $6.9 million this year for mobile crisis teams.
Those teams, stressed Elliott, “will connect people in crisis with the services they actually need. This is the kind of collaborative work that we want to see evolve across Ontario.”
In acknowledging the funding support, Herridge noted “I cannot express enough how pleased I am today with the tremendous support we have received from ministers Elliott, Jones and Yurek.
“All three recognize a collaborative approach to community safety and wellbeing does work. And our mental health program is a perfect example of the approach we need for the citizens of St. Thomas and our policing family.”
Herridge continued, “A mental health crisis can affect the entire community, our friends, colleagues, neighbours and family members. Mental health is truly a community issue.
“We need to ensure the best supports are in place to help in the care being provided to people with mental health challenges in St. Thomas.”
Last year, Herridge indicated, officers responded to 1,401 mental health related calls, “and as the numbers indicate, Alex (Paterson) is a crucial asset to those suffering from a mental illness.
“Everyone values the work Alex is doing for our community and will continue to do thanks to this announcement and your ongoing support.”
Following the formal announcement, Yurek confirmed the funding will be ongoing.
“It will be part of the $3.8 billion mental health money we are rolling out over the next 10 years. It is a permanent position to have this worker intertwine with the police.
“There are a number of mobile units that will be announced throughout the province, but ours was chosen because we took the initiative, as a community, to pilot having a mental health worker with our police and it was such a tremendous program.”
SHUTTERING EMDC: SHORTSIGHTED SAYS PROVINCIAL MINISTER
Yesterday’s good news funding announcement was overshadowed somewhat when the appearance of Minister Jones provided an ideal opportunity to challenge the province’s solicitor-general on 14 deaths in the past 10 years at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre.
And the letter directed her way by Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Correspondence that branded the facility as dangerous, overcrowded, unsanitary and dehumanizing.
She was asked, in light of that letter, what she was doing to improve conditions at EMDC.
“The first thing I’m doing is not waiting. We have already done a lot of things proactively. It was actually the first correctional facility that I toured.”
Jones continued, “We have a full-time canine unit, ion body scanners and we have three social workers now.
“We have a pilot project that speaks to court transport and prisoner transport to our medical facilities.”
These issues speak to the announcement we just made, stressed Jones.
“When we see addictions and mental health issues in our community, they transfer into our justice system. We’re seeing that with EMDC. We need to make sure people who are in our justice system are there because of the right reasons.”
Asked if she thought EMDC was a safe facility today, Jones responded “Corrections facilities by their very nature are at a higher level of risk. It is our job to mitigate that risk as much as we possibly can through staff training, through facilities that keep our staff and inmates safe.”
Is she proud of what is going on at EMDC?
“I’m never proud when people have loved ones who are at risk or in danger. What I am proud of is our government has acted and will continue to act to ensure the corrections officers and the inmates are as safe as they possibly can be.”
“I am looking at the system Ontario-wide, I am not going to look at one institution and make it vastly different from the rest.”
As to whether the facility should be torn down, Jones advised “The reality is, we have over 100 individuals in that institution who have been told to be there by the judiciary system . . . and bluntly, to suggest we could tear down an institution is not going to make our community any safer.”
Jones stressed this is a province-wide issue and is not limited to EMDC and the province is committed to building new institutions across Ontario.
“We have to make sure the facilities we currently have are as safe as they possibly can be . . . To be blunt, to suggest that we tear down an institution when there are 200 inmates in it seems a little short-sighted.”
She continued, “I am looking at the system Ontario-wide, I am not going to look at one institution and make it vastly different from the rest.”
As to why the facilities are overcrowded and rife with opioid issues, Jones stressed “We need to make sure the people who are in our facilities are there for the right reasons. If we can have crisis intervention teams and diversion that allows those people to get the treatment and services they need in their community, before they go through our court system, then I think we have served our people in a much more positive way.”
Our lead item last week on homelessness prompted a lengthy correspondence from Ralph West, the city’s housing services administrator which sheds further light on efforts being undertaken to address the housing needs of vulnerable residents.
Here are his comments in full.
“I’d like to thank you once again for highlighting the issues of housing and homelessness in St. Thomas and Elgin county. Your well-researched article stressed some points that may have been under-emphasized in my report to council, including the comments made by OrgCode in their recommendations following last year’s homeless enumeration.
“I’m also grateful that you chose to make particular reference to the contributions being made by the YWCA and CMHA Elgin, given that both organizations have played a key role in addressing the housing needs of the most vulnerable members of the community.
“I’ll be doing a presentation to Reference Committee of Council this evening on my expenditure plan for the use of provincial funds under the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (or CHPI) this year. This provincial program has funded or partially funded a substantial proportion of the work done in the community in addressing homelessness, in combination with the efforts of the YW and CMHA Elgin mentioned above and, of course, those of Inn Out of the Cold.
“Our focus in the use of CHPI funds has evolved over time from ‘managing homelessness,’ in the sense of trying to keep the problem under control, more and more towards working to reduce and even end homelessness through the provision of dedicated and targeted supports for those who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness.
“The Youth Homeless Protocol which the YWCA successfully pioneered in the community is very much a model in this regard. For example, it served to influence the Inn Out of the Cold’s addition of a System Navigator staff person (funded through CHPI) to work closely with their individual guests last year.
“Unfortunately, as you have noted in your column, none of this can work without affordable housing units being available for those who are homeless to be diverted into and supported in for as long as is necessary. Hopefully, more progress on that front is in the offing.
“Thank you again, for your attention to community issues, and in particular those affecting the most vulnerable members of the community.”
Serge Lavoie passes along a reminder the St. Thomas-Elgin branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) is holding its 7th annual Heritage Awards this Wednesday, May 29 at 7 p.m in the Princess Avenue Playhouse.
In addition to his work with the St Thomas Elevated Park, Lavoie is the awards coordinator for the ACO.
The evening will honour six achievements in built heritage preservation, one heritage advocate who uses photography as her medium and a heritage organization with a track record of preserving built heritage.
The latter is the Tyrconnell Heritage Society for its efforts in restoring the Backus-Page House.
Recognized for her photographic efforts through her Instagram site, Victorian Vibes, is Nikolina Wallis who has attracted more than 16,000 followers.
Dawn Doty will be honoured for her restoration of a row of five connected cottages on McIntyre Street, across from the Alma College property.
Also in the spotlight are the Friends Meeting House on Quaker Road in Sparta; Moore Water Gardens in Port Stanley; Bill and Michelle Trombley for their restoration efforts at 211/213 Furnival Road in Rodney; Steve and Cheryl Ward for their conversion of Bethany United Church in Shedden; and Shaw’s Dairy Bar on Sunset Drive.
All are welcome, admission is free.
For more information, call 519-859-7763 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE READER’S WRITE
Yesterday’s funding announcement prompted a couple of Tweets directed our way from reader Bob Upsdell.
“Congrats to Jeff and STPS (St. Thomas Police Service) for maintaining what has become an essential service. Next for Jeff and his government is to fix the EMDC. In December ’17 while in opposition he had the following to say: ‘Let them come in and conduct their review and audit of the EMDC and how it operates and what supports are available, and then come up with concrete solutions that the government should implement in order to end the ongoing deaths and violence at EMDC.’ The study has recently been completed and now it is time to act.”
POINT TO PONDER
We haven’t revisited the appalling conditions of late at Walnut Manor, the independent supportive living home operated by Niagara Supportive Living of Welland.
We were directed to the Linkedin page of owner Vishal Chityal – also known as Charlie Duke – who portrays himself as, “A highly motivated, forward-thinking entrepreneur continually looking to innovate the status quo.”
If you have ever visited Walnut Manor or have friends or family housed there, that thumbnail sketch doesn’t quite conjure up reality at the pathetically run-down warehouse for some of the city’s most vulnerable individuals.
Thank-you to my tipster who shall remain anonymous.
FOR THE CALENDAR
Kids love a party and here’s one with an entertaining twist. The St. Thomas Police Service is holding a party in honour of PSD Axle’s third birthday next Saturday, June 1 from 1 to 3 p.m. behind Central Elgin Collegiate Institute. The four-legged guest of honour and his partner, Const. Sean James will be strutting their stuff for all in attendance. Free admission but you are requested to bring dog or cat food to donate to local shelters. All are welcome, but please leave your pets at home for this particular party.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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