Ontario mayors, police leaders and businesses are calling on the province to provide more help to tackle the growing homeless and opioid crises that affect big cities and small towns alike.
Ontario’s major city mayors, a group that includes 29 mayors from cities with a population of 100,000 or more, requested an emergency meeting with the province and Premier Doug Ford two months ago to address the lack of housing, the opioid crisis and mental health, said Cam Guthrie, the organization’s president.
So far, the province has not responded to that request, said Guthrie, who is also the mayor of Guelph, Ontario. He noted that the group’s caucus is “pretty disappointed” to have to wait on such an important issue.
The mayors’ committee met with Michael Tibollo, associate minister for mental health, at the Ontario Association of Municipalities annual conference this week, but Guthrie said a multi-ministerial meeting is needed to address such a complex issue.
“Every day that we don’t meet with other stakeholders to try to come up with some solutions is another day that the fighting continues and the crisis worsens,” he said.
Municipalities across the province are grappling with a growing homeless population, fueled by the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing distaste and mistrust of large shelters with congregate settings.
As a result, large and small camps have appeared in many communities, where they have become a lightning rod. Many have been forcibly evicted by the police, only to see smaller ones turn up elsewhere.
Guthrie said cities are ill-prepared to address the health care needs of those living on the streets and others living with addictions, noting that health care falls under provincial jurisdiction.
A spokeswoman for Steve Clark, the minister for municipal affairs and housing, said the province “ensures that all Ontarians have a safe, stable and affordable place to call home, especially the most vulnerable.”
The Ontario government is investing nearly $25 million in new funding annually in a program that helps people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless find housing, services and support, said Victoria Podbielski. She added that brings the province’s total annual investment in homeless prevention programs to nearly $500 million.
Other organizations support the call of the mayors of the big cities for a meeting with the province on the twin crises. These include the Ontario Association of Municipalities, the Ontario Chiefs of Police, and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
“They need to get involved and find the best solutions and why we can do it effectively and efficiently because right now we’re spending a lot of money, but we’re not getting the results,” said Colin Best, the new director of AMO. President and Councilor of the Halton Region.
Joe Couto, a spokesman for the Ontario Police Chiefs, said community policing involves “addressing the root causes of poverty, homelessness and addicts of any kind that bring people into contact with the justice system. ”.
“In our view, if we can address these issues at their source, we could save people a lot of pain and involvement in the justice system,” he said.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce said it supports the provincial association’s call “to accelerate health- and economic-focused solutions to this short-term and long-term crisis.”
“The opioid crisis continues to have significant socioeconomic impacts on Ontario businesses and communities, particularly in northern areas, the construction industry, and on racialized and other marginalized groups,” said Sara Fegelman, Senior Policy Analyst. of the organization.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 17, 2022.