Homelessness and Mental Health Action Group

April 18, 2007 11:44 ET

Homelessness and Mental Health Action Group: "End Homelessness Now" Public Forum

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(CCNMatthews - April 18, 2007) - St. Andrews Wesley's Homelessness and Mental Illness Action Group is sponsoring a free public forum on May 8th at 7:00 pm. This event will be held at St. Andrews Wesley Church (corner of Burrard and Nelson) with support of Coast Mental Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association, to raise awareness and address the homelessness crisis in our city.

There are currently over 1200 homeless people living in our city (street workers estimate that the "actual number of homeless" is likely four times as many). Approximately 80% suffer from mental illness and/or alcohol and drug addiction. These individuals face challenges in daily living that are unimaginable, like hunger, poverty, hypothermia, loneliness, and loss of control over their lives. On the streets these men, women and children face physical and emotional abuse daily and suffer from serious medical conditions. We are all affected by this whether we like it or not.

Join us for a "Dialogue Toward Solutions" with guest speakers Mr. Michael Harcourt, former Mayor of the City of Vancouver and former Premier of the Province of B.C., Mr. Rafe Mair, former Cabinet Minister and Canada's best known political commentator, and Rev. Ruth Wright, Executive Director, First United Church Mission. The Public Forum moderator will be Dr. Nancy Hall, former Mental Health Advocate. We believe that the solution to this complex problem requires strategic inter-government co-ordination and action and plan to discuss and work to actualise "Out of the Shadows at Last" the recently released Michael Kirby Senate Report on Homelessness. Come and join the discussion in the cry for social justice.

Guests will be welcomed by a short performance by the renowned Universal Gospel Choir.

About Honourable Michael Harcourt

Considered one of the most successful politicians in the province's history, Michael Harcourt was in public service for 25 years. As the former Mayor of Vancouver and Premier of British Columbia, Mike Harcourt helped Canada's westernmost province earn its reputation as one of the most livable places in the world. His focus on conservation and sustainable development has played a significant role in promoting quality of life for those he represented in office. He is a passionate believer in the power of cities and communities to improve the human condition. An accident in November 2002 in which he sustained a major spinal cord injury only strengthened his resolve to contribute to the transformation of cities and communities around the world through the principles of sustainability, particularly in relation to social inclusion in the broadest sense.

About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair is a former lawyer, cabinet minister and scratch golfer who went into honest work and became a broadcaster and writer on public affairs. During his public career Rafe Mair was the British Columbia minister responsible for constitutional affairs leading up to the patriation of the Canadian Constitution, and through 1980 attended all the critical meetings either as Premier Bennett's representative or adviser. He has a unique insight and training into political and constitutional matters having traveled extensively researching these matters.

About Rev. Ruth Wright

Rev. Ruth Wright has been the Executive Director at First United Church Mission in the downtown eastside for the past 10 years. Ruth has worked extensively with the homeless and is determined to see an end to this crisis. Ruth is also a founding member of the Mayor's Four Pillar Advisory Committee.

About Dr. Nancy Hall

Nancy Hall was B.C.'s first appointed Mental Health Advocate reporting directly to the provinces Minister of Health. Nancy sought out and found areas in the mental health field where government attention was needed. For Three Years Nancy was responsible for delivering the Advocates Report to the Ministry of Health on acceptable and uniform levels of mental health care standards throughout the province. Her Office was shut down in 2001 taking away one of the truly valuable avenues of help for British Columbians with mental illness. Nancy is well known for her work in the field of mental illness and currently works as an evaluation consultant for mental health programs. Nancy also sits on the B.C. Mental Health Act Review Board.

About Homelessness

In the midst of this prosperous city, more and more people are homeless. Homelessness is a national crisis caused by a lack of understanding and appropriate response to mental illnesses and addictions suffered by our fellow citizens. There are over 1200 homeless citizens in this city alone. This is expected to continually increase because society has not made this a priority, decreasing stock of affordable housing, and a lack of political will and cooperation of the different levels of government in this country to deal with the inhumanity of homelessness. While the costs varied dramatically by individual, the average public cost of managing one of these individuals on the street was $40,000 per year because the citizens that are homeless tend to use high cost services that includes hospital, ambulance, police incarceration, emergency shelter and food aid. By contrast, even taking amortized construction costs into account, the cost per person of people with a mental illness dropped to an average of $28,000 when they were in supportive housing. Homelessness can be eradicated! It is our moral responsibility to do our part.

About Mental Illness

Everybody believes the lack of supportive housing for the mentally ill is a human tragedy. Not providing proper support infrastructure for the mentally ill creates health problems, contributes to mental health issues and addictions that often leads to homelessness. Not only are mental health services in too short a supply, but the services offered are not user friendly or community based enough for people to easily access and use them. Premier Campbell's address to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities acknowledged that de-institutionalizing was a failed policy.

About Addiction

Of the $245-million a year spent by Ottawa to combat drug use, 73% went to policing, with only 14% spent on treatment. Long waiting lists for detox centres and shortages of treatment facilities in this city make it difficult for the homeless struggling from addiction. The nature of addiction is that help is needed at the point that the individual is ready to receive it. To not have facilities available when the addict is ready can mean the difference between their recovery or their continued lifestyle on the street.

About Supportive Housing

There is a solution and it is called supportive housing. This solution combines decent permanent housing and creative, individualized community mental health support along with employment assistance. This is a compassionate and cost effective solution. If no new low-cost housing is built and the current stock of low cost housing continues to close and deteriorate at its present rate, visitors to Vancouver in 2010 will see nearly three times as many homeless people living on the streets of Vancouver as they see today. Visible poverty and homelessness will be more apparent throughout the city, as all shelters in Vancouver are currently operating at or near capacity.

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