Photo by: Brenden Cowan
St. Catharines is now in a mental health, homelessness and addiction crisis, reported on Monday, April 3 by St. Catharines city councillors.
Following the declaration of the crisis, councillors contacted federal and provincial governments to order national and provincial states of emergency on mental health, homelessness and addiction. Also included in the request is culturally relevant support to Indigenous peoples.
This decision follows Niagara Region’s Feb. 23 declaration of a state of emergency for homelessness, mental health and opioid addiction.
Merriton councillor Jackie Lindal noted that numerous people, families and businesses are suffering the repercussions from the region’s previous disregard towards the three crises.
“In the first six months of 2022, our Niagara Region emergency medical services responded to 329 suspected opioid overdoses — and that’s incredible, the amount of people who are overdosing and maybe even passing away,” said Lindal.
Additionally, mental health support within the region has also seen a strong increase.
In 2019, 56-year-old Fred Penner was shot 10 times and killed by Niagara Regional Police officers after refusing to drop a large serrated knife. The event took place only four days after Penner was released from a hospital psychiatric unit.
“Everyone in this room knows someone who suffers from some sort of mental health or anxiety problem, so I really think this is a crisis and I hope you can all support this motion,” said Lindal during the Monday council meeting.
The decision also follows city councillors unanimous passing of a motion on March 20 requesting that the province increase funding for housing services in Niagara.
According to Merritton councillor Greg Miller, lack of appropriate funding has led to more than 9,000 households in Niagara who are waiting for affordable housing.
Following the provincial government’s passing of Bill-23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, last October, St. Catharines was given a target of building 11,000 homes by 2023. Although the target aims to mend the housing crisis, St. Patrick’s council Caleb Ratzlaff has noted that there is no rent control on homes built after November 2018.
St. Catharines is recognized as having one of the highest rents in Ontario, with prices rising to 19 per cent since 2021. Such measures have led to a dramatic increase in residents “living rough.”
St. Catharines is working to mend current issues by calling on the government to provide a financial commitment for the community which will result in more affordable and supportive housing. Additionally, support from the government to local organizations will also aid in filling current systemic gaps.
St. Catharines mayor Mat Siscoe hopes to trigger action and funding from the governments through the city’s request:
“Motions like this draw attention to [the crises], and the hope is it will create focus from those levels of government and in some cases additional spending because they have that capacity.”
The council is also working to raise awareness towards mental health and addiction by supporting community led initiatives when possible, such as savemylife.ca.
A response from the government following St. Catharines declaration of the crisis is still pending.