Ed Arvelin, Chair of OPSEU's Mental Health and Addictions Division sent the following open letter to Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, regarding the mental health and homelessness crisis.
The Honourable Eric Hoskins, Minister
Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
10th Floor, Hepburn Block
80 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 2C4
Dear Minister Hoskins,
As you know, the recent cold snap and the ensuing debate about opening Toronto’s armoury as a winter respite site has brought the issues of mental health and homelessness to the forefront of public discourse. As a union that represents more than 8000 mental health and addictions workers in Ontario, we know all too well that our mental health system is in crisis.
We know this because it is OPSEU members who work on the frontlines of care – in mental health facilities, and in community mental health across Ontario. While our members strive to provide the best quality care to our clients, we often feel as though we’re stuck swimming upstream, with no life raft in sight.
That’s why I was so pleased to hear last week of your commitment to work with Toronto and other communities across all corners of Ontario to build a mental health system that can be there for all of us when we need it. We know that the time for action is now, and we appreciate your renewed attention to mental health care.
I am writing today, as Chair of OPSEU’s Mental Health Division, with a simple question: will you also meet with the frontline mental health and addictions workers at the forefront of this crisis?
Our members know that there can be no solution to the current crisis without representation and meaningful input from those who provide care. Our frontline workers know that the shelter system is stretched thin, that there is a lack of affordable housing and that these issues are compounded by a lack of supportive mental health services and beds in our communities.
As a result of deinstitutionalization in Ontario, we’ve seen major cuts to rehabilitation and respite beds in the mental health sector. Despite the promise of care shifting to the community, there exists an ongoing and pervasive shortage of supportive community services, beds and specialized mental health and addictions programs. Funding for these services has never made up for what was lost.
Because of this, our system is a revolving door; there are too few services in the community, but individuals who are not deemed “sick enough” will not be admitted to hospital. So many individuals are caught in between, and they are suffering. Many of them will end up on the streets.
We are reaching out in good faith, in the hope that by working together we can overcome some of the challenges faced by the most vulnerable in our communities; lives absolutely depend upon it. We look forward to your response, and for the opportunity to engage in open dialogue.
Ed Arvelin, Chair
OPSEU Mental Health and Addictions Division
c: Hon. Kathleen Wynne, Premier
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of OPSEU
Jeff Yurek, PC Health Critic
France Gélinas, NDP Health Critic