What will we do? World Mental Health and World Homelessness Day

I’ve been meaning to write the follow-up to my posts on mental health and the issues that surround it for some time now. But what with our Ontario Provincial Election and the demands of work, school, family and my to many projects the time just seemed to slip by. But today is World Mental Health Day and it’s World Homelessness Day and here in Canada its Thanks Giving so it’s apropos that I offer my solutions to what is often a black hole of issues.

First though a couple of things you need to realise about homelessness here in London Ontario and by extension the province, the country and the world. There are often 2000 people per night that sleep on the streets or in the limited shelters in our forested city. That’s a lot of folks with no family to celebrate this holiday with nor enjoy that holiday staple the turkey dinner and they live on the street. If this makes you feel bad good. I think we all have a collective shame to bear that we allow this to happen in community in which we live

The Cost of Poverty according to the Ontario Association of Food Banks is The report finds that the economic cost of poverty in Ontario comes to $32 to $38 billion per year “ and with child poverty “If child poverty were eliminated, the extra income tax revenues nationally would be between $3.1 billion and $3.8 billion, while for Ontario, the additional (federal and provincial) taxes would amount to $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion.  The total economic cost (private and social) of child poverty Ontario is $4.6 to 5.9 billion annually.”  The London Free Press Reported recently about the London Food Bank  As the food bank marks its 25th anniversary this month, use has gone up, not down. It has had an almost 10-fold increase in client families, to more than 3,200 a month. And still Londoners go hungry, are homeless and are unemployed.”

The Cost of Mental health is .  “$51 billion is the estimated cost of mental illness to the Canadian economy in terms of health care and lost productivity” and in Ontario “$34 billion is the cost of mental illness and addictions to the Ontario economy” according to the Centre for Addictions, and Mental Health(CAMH)

What you need to realize friends is that Mental Health, Poverty , and Homelessness are all deeply interrelated. But what can we do as ordinary citizens to change what seems to be an insurmountable problem? We can choose to act with a political and community minded will to ensure our governments address these as some of our highest priorities.

I can here you thinking “ Sure you keep talking about these issues but what are you offering as a solution?” Well I’m glad you asked. I suggest first that as a province and a country we need to stop talking about tax cuts and start talk about paying for the community, Province, and Country in which we want to live. This means that if I have to pay an extra $400/year in taxes to solve these issues then I’m willing to do that as the cost to making where I live a better place for everyone.

I also believe that we need to integrate our approach across disciplines. There can be no separation of church and state between health care, education, community and social services, police and justice, and the public. So on the issue of homelessness, poverty, and mental health there is a unified approach to taking action across the board that is driven by research and not politics.

A fairly straight forward thing that could happen immediately to help almost 53,000 people in London is to increase Ontario Works and ODSP (disability) payments to 10% above the low-income cut off line. At the same time we need to create a transition from OW to work. This means rather than claw back benefits when a family earns some money we allow them to keep it and once they have regular full-time employment then we allow them to keep their benefits for 6 months. This would ease the transition and ensure economic stability for that family.  With the current system this is impossible so families and individuals feel they cannot leave Ontario Works. I have seen this hundreds and hundreds of times in the past 4 years.  Our system actively discourages people from moving forward because it does not allow them to build an economic cushion. You are either on OW or your off.

This chart gives you an idea of the gap between what OW and ODSP pay and what the Low Income Cut Off mark is . This comes from Children’s Mental Health Ontario:

You can see that we have a long way to go but if we do decide to cover this distance and take on something that is important for the economic, health, and generational benefit of our community then we will be pulling down the huge economic and human cost of these underfunded and often ignored area.

In the end we can either deal with these issues honestly and with maturity or keep playing the tax cut shell game we have been for to many years. We as corporations, businesses, public institutions, governments, and most importantly citizens must decide how our communities will prioritize our efforts. I propose the priority is Poverty, Homelessness, and Mental Health, so that we have a community for all not just some.

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