Together, Building a Better Ottawa
More on Mental Health
Mental health is personal for me. My father took his own life. Several others close to me have battled Bipolar Disorder for much of their life. I’m not unique. Most of us have friends or family members who have mental health issues. Every level of government acknowledges mental health is a key priority and yet we continue to see more and more people on the streets who are in distress and in need of assistance.
Most programming and funding to address the issue are in the jurisdiction of the federal and provincial governments, but the City of Ottawa can implement measures to reduce and mitigate harm, while saving taxpayers’ dollars in the long term.
Affordable housing, community health centres and a new approach to policing are all part of the solution. To those who call for defunding the police, I say better that we refund the police. The Ottawa City Police have a mental health unit. Mental health officials praise their work and note how much more effective they are in dealing with cases that require police intervention compared to uniformed officers who are generally ill-prepared to deal with the mentally ill. Unfortunately, the mental health unit has only four officers, who are not always available. Efforts should be made to work with Ottawa Police to expand that unit, which would include increased foot and bike patrols so they can better integrate with the public, including those with mental issues. Instead of forcing the mentally ill to search for the cure, police could go a long way to bringing the cure to the streets. Serving and protecting.
As well as rethinking funding for the police, the City should reconsider its relationship with property developers. Instead of viewing them as adversaries, a partnership that includes a mental health component should be pursued that ensures the City, its residents and the developers benefit. This involves working with developers to ensure new projects include not only an affordable housing component, but also community health facilities. To get approval for new projects, options could be explored which would require developers to commit to repurpose older derelict buildings, of which we have many, into affordable housing.
Several years ago, to help combat urban sprawl, Vancouver implemented rules requiring the inclusion of daycare facilities in new residential developments to entice families to stay in the city, building a sense of community in the core rather than fleeing to the suburbs. A similar model focused on community health – including mental health facilities – can be explored in Ottawa.
Another measure that can be implemented by the City would be to reduce municipal taxes to those providing home care to mentally ill family members rather than forcing individuals to the streets because the family can’t afford to care for them.
I don’t profess to be an expert on mental health issues but I have spoken to leading experts in the city. I have spoken to developers. The challenges of growing mental illness affect all of us. Those challenges need to be met with bold and innovative initiatives. I believe that by working together, we can find solutions.