‘A world where mental illness is seen in the same light as all other illnesses in Ontario.’

city_scope_logo-cmykAt the end of July, we wrote about Dennis Kalichuk and his retirement.
After delivering his last letter for Canada Post, he eschewed typical retirement pastimes like golf and fishing in favour of starting a movement.
As per his vision, “a movement and official petition to ask the Ontario government for immediate and sweeping changes to the way that Ontario deals with issues and problems of homelessness, mental health and addictions.”
Remember, this was at the very end of July.
Not three months later – this past Thursday (Oct. 7) to be exact – there’s Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek standing up at Queen’s Park to present Kalichuk’s petition to members.
He referred to Kalichuk “as recently retired and he’s making Ontario a better place.”

The petition reads as follows:
“To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:
“Whereas, issues of homelessness, mental health and addiction are not being properly and successfully addressed

Yurek, Jeff re Dennis Kalichuk petition Oct 7-21

MPP Jeff Yurek delivering Dennis Kalichuk’s petition to the Ontario Legislature.

“Whereas, our police services are being overburdened; our downtowns are beleaguered; our citizens in need are suffering and not receiving proper care
“Therefore, we the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:
That the Government of Ontario immediately embark on the restructuring and rebuilding of our mental health and addictions care and treatment facilities and philosophies to one that is public institution-based and is proper, pertinent, results-oriented, and compassion fueled.”
Just before Yurek presented the petition, Kalichuk wrote to Premier Doug Ford with his thoughts on what needs to be undertaken.
In his Oct. 1 correspondence, Kalichuk wrote the following.
“However, history and performance suggest that it’s quite likely that our current methods of care will continue to provide poor outcomes, resulting in worsening crises at the end of the decade-long implementation of the RTW (Return to Wellness, the province’s roadmap to future healthcare).
“But I also believe that a ground-breaking successful strategy of care is well within our grasp.”
Kalichuk continued, “I wanted to take this opportunity to offer a bit more of a specific suggestion to go along with the petition. I’d like to suggest an extended in-person gathering of a number of Ontario key players from our fields of health; homelessness concerns; mental health; and addictions.

“In many cases, the only assistance a homeless citizen with issues of mental health and/or addictions is receiving is often peer-based harm reduction on the street.”

“A moderated meeting where the participants are collectively presented with a ‘blank slate,’ and virtually build a system of care that is animated step-by-step by needs.
“A system of care that provides an easily accessible pathway of care and healing for every situation, scenario and individual.
“Following the development of the plan, we would of course then need to retrofit our current infrastructure, facilities, agencies, organizations and institutions to suit.

“Speaking personally, I believe that an increased role from our Ontario hospital network and the creation of “EMPATH-like” intake facilities would fill large gaps in our current system.
“An Ontario group of experts in these fields could certainly come to a consensus, and develop a plan and philosophies that could be world-leading.”
Kalichuk concluded, “On behalf of all residents of Ontario, and petition signees, I thank you for hearing our petition and thank you in advance for your response.”
Kalichuk lists what he deems are the problems with our current programs of community-based care with local input.
He notes, “In a recent conversation with St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston, he described our current Ontario model of mental health and addictions care as ‘. . . an unbelievable huge, complex elephant.”
In a meeting with St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge, “he suggested that we need to ‘provide a path’ that is a ‘non-criminal approach,’ along with 24/7 access to suitable care sites.”
Kalichuk points out, “The CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) would like to see a world where mental illness is seen in the same light as all other illnesses in Ontario.
Dennis Kalichuk“Indeed, this makes us wonder why illnesses of mental health and addictions are treated so often outside of our world-class public health care institutions.
“In many cases, the only assistance a homeless citizen with issues of mental health and/or addictions is receiving is often peer-based harm reduction on the street.”
Kalichuk, a musician who performed under the name Jumbo Train, in modest fashion suggests. “I’m just a guy. I’m nobody special. I’m nobody with expert knowledge in this area.
“I’m just someone, like everyone else, who knows that something needs to be done. I’m just trying to get that ball rolling,” and he points out the obvious.
“We have the people; the personnel; a vast knowledge pool; caring government ministers; a capable umbrella in Ontario Health; and the desire to design a successful and efficient system of care, healing, curing and rehabilitation for all our citizens suffering from homelessness, and issues of mental health and/or addictions.
“We need the will, and we need to make the commitment.”
We’ll be talking with Yurek over the weekend to determine what is next for Kalichuk’s petition. His Facebook group is at https://www.facebook.com/groups/254604603140522

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Just before the Sept. 29 ground-breaking at 16 Queen Street, myFM was offered the opportunity to tour Indwell’s first St. Thomas project set to come into operation this month.
Indwell Railway City LoftsThe Railway City Lofts are the micro-apartments on the second floor of the downtown transit building on Talbot Street and that’s where we spoke with Natasha Thuemler, Indwell’s regional manager in London.
In total, there are 15 units plus a tenant drop-in space where they can connect with staff. Eight Indwell staff will be based at the lofts, including an RPN, addiction support, housing support, a behavioural therapist and food security staff who will be providing one meal per day.
The ultimate goal is that tenants would be able to gather and eat together.
There is also a common room where Thuemler advises, “We will run different programs for individuals to participate in if they want.”
Each of the 15 units is slightly different in configuration, as Thuemler explains, “because it is a renovation to an existing building, we are trying to maximize the number of units.
“They are all accessible and then there is a handful of barrier-free units where the washrooms would be a little bit bigger and lower light switches.”Indwell Railway City Lofts bathroom
As to who is eligible to apply for this temporary housing, Thuemler explains they are working with the city and the Ministry of Health and their Back to Home program and individuals would have to meet certain requirements.
In December of 2020, the province announced it is investing over $47 million to provide supportive housing for individuals with severe mental health and addictions challenges who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

“So, as individuals reach their goals, our hope is that they would be able to transition to any one of our programs.”

The funding will also support the creation of a new Back to Home program to help patients transition from hospitals to permanent housing.
“They may have experienced homelessness, have mental health or addiction complexities that we can then support them with in terms of housing stability,” pointed out Thuemler.
She continued, “We work very much on an individual level with each person who moves here. What are your goals? What are you looking forward to and how can we support you?”
It is to be stressed this is temporary housing and then an individual would move on, perhaps to the Queen Street housing complex.
“It’s the second of three projects we have underway here. So we are really offering that full spectrum of supportive housing within the community.”
Thuemler advises Railway City Lofts is Indwell’s smallest program “with our highest staffing complement. Queen Street would have a similar staffing complement but there are actually 45 units and still offering that medication and meal support and on-site staff availability.
“And Ross Street (at Centre Street) is the third project and will have 45 to 60 units with a much lower staffing complement.
“So, as individuals reach their goals, our hope is that they would be able to transition to any one of our programs.”

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Ceremony on a vacant lot at 16 Queen Street in St. Thomas a case of ‘standing on the ground of compassion’


Up for consideration during Tuesday’s (Oct. 14) council meeting is a presentation by Brian Putre, Stantec Consulting Ltd., regarding the St. Thomas Transportation Master Plan.
Two years ago, the city hired Stantec to develop a strategic plan that will identify the future route for St. Thomas Transit.
Well, at the beginning of this year the city rolled out its new edition of public transit in the form of Railway City Transit.
Apart from the splashy new logo, the most notable feature of the system was the paring back of service on four of the five routes to a one-hour headway, instead of the previous 30-minutes.
Railway City Transit logoAt the time, the city announced a pilot project would be undertaken to collect feedback on the new routes and service headways.
The transition to the new operation prompted a lengthy treatise from faithful transit user Isabelle Nethercott who, at the time, we observed knows more about the pitfalls and shortcomings of the bus operation than anyone at city hall. And that includes the mayor and council.
For years, she has relied on the creaky buses to get her to and from work.
Her overarching conclusion was, “A good public transit system is essential to a healthy community.”
Nethercott checked in with us this week, curious as to the status of the pilot project and her timing is impeccable with regard to Tuesday’s council meeting.
She writes, “If I recall correctly, the ‘improved’ bus system was a six-month pilot project, which would mean that it is now very nearly at the end and it is definitely time for a review.
“All of the many issues that I outlined in my email of April 21 still remain, and there are yet more.”
The link to her April 21 email is below.
She continues, “To me, the reduction of service to hourly for 4 out of 5 routes is still the biggest issue. I have compared services in many Ontario municipalities, and only Tillsonburg (population 15,000) has hourly service.

“I trust that this inadequate system will be under review as the pilot project nears its end.”

“There is nothing progressive about reducing service. And if there were 30-minute service, not only would it keep St. Thomas in the same league as every other municipality in Ontario, but it would also alleviate the issue detailed below.
“Lately, another issue has become paramount. With school returning, the route I take every morning to get to work has become unbearable. One day there wasn’t enough room for all the students, and two were left at the transit point, unable to board as it was not a bus that allowed for standing space.
“I do believe the driver may have called for another bus, but those poor girls were panicked. If there was a student express route as there used to be or 30-minute service, I am fairly certain this problem would be eliminated.
“Today there were at least 7 people who had to stand, including myself and a lady with a walker as no one gave up their seat for her. It’s bad enough to have to sit shoulder-to-shoulder during COVID times, but to be packed in like that is even more ridiculous.
“I have been avoiding taking the bus as much as possible, but with the weather changing, I will have no choice. And I suspect that there are many more students who will soon be trying to get on this bus for the same reason.
“I trust that this inadequate system will be under review as the pilot project nears its end.”
In a subsequent email, she added the following observation.
“I’ve noticed they are keeping track of the number of riders again recently, so things are definitely afoot.
“I was thinking about the comparison you made to the railway’s method of undermining a service they wanted to abandon. It feels like people are just accepting that this is how it is now, even though it is terrible. So frustrating.”
Ever thorough, Nethercott included the following transit system comparison.

Transit comparison from Isabelle Nethercott Sept 28-21
In her April email, she spelled it out.
“In short, any city that penalizes users by downgrading the service to a one-hour headway on almost all of its routes has no right to call itself progressive.”
And she concluded, “People who rely on public transit do so for many reasons. Personally, I have never pursued a driver’s licence for financial and health reasons as well as environmental concerns.”
Tuesday’s Stantec presentation may very well address some of Nethercott’s concerns.
This transit devotee is certainly hoping so.

Related post:

‘A good public transit system is essential to a healthy community’ – a frustrated St. Thomas passenger


Checking in with a backstory on the third city fire station to be included in the affordable housing complex at 16 Queen Street, Dave Mathers submitted this.

“Almost fifty years ago the city decided to relocate the fire department from Southwick St. to a new hall on Wellington just east of First Ave.
“This move resulted in the tripling of fire insurance premiums for buildings in the west end.
“Promises were made to get a fire hall in the west end. It appears that it only took about half a century to honour those promises!!
“Better late than never?”

In response to our article last week noting the affordable housing inventory in St. Thomas will increase by more than 100 units in the next four years, Deb Hardy forwarded the following observation on homeless individuals in the city.

“I see so many on the streets every morning at 5:30, 4 years is a long time.”

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.


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