Local mental health spending too low: Patten

By Susan White
Additional funding announced recently by the Ontario government to improve community mental health services isn’t enough, says Ottawa Centre Liberal MPP Richard Patten.

Earlier this month, Health Minister Elizabeth Witmer announced $4.8 million in new funding for all community mental health providers, including children’s mental health services and sexual assault and suicide prevention programs. In all, 443 programs would benefit.

“It’s good that they have additional funding,” says Patten, “but it’s not going to go very far. Ottawa alone will need that much.”

Eastern Ontario, which includes Ottawa, Kingston, Brockville and Cornwall, will receive $588,254. It’s uncertain yet how much money Ottawa will receive or which groups will benefit.

Joanne Lowe, executive director of the Ottawa branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, agrees with Patten.

“It’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop we’re willing to take,” she says.

She adds that the mental health community “still need(s) to negotiate with the ministry” on how the funding will be divided.

Patten says there’s a need to improve mental health facilities in rural areas because the services in Eastern Ontario are centralized in urban areas. This results in people flocking to the cities, putting a strain on existing mental health facilities.

“The suburbs should play a bigger role in this, frankly,” Patten says. “They’re not doing it because they don’t want it in their backyard. I think that’s very selfish.”

The ministry also announced an additional $67.6 million for immediate and long-term housing for homeless people with mental illnesses.

Ottawa-Carleton will receive over $2.5 million, which will allow for 350 housing units to be purchased or leased.

Lowe says she’s pleased with that announcement, which is phase two of the ministry’s plan to combat homelessness.

“This is an enormous amount of money to be coming into our community,” she says.

David Jensen, spokes-person for the ministry, says most of the homes will be purchased in the spring, but some may be ready earlier.

Diane Morrison, executive director of the Union Mission for Men on Waller Street, says 40 to 60 per cent of homeless people have mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Morrison says she believes the funding will be beneficial because it’s intended specifically for mental health.

“Most addiction programs don’t want to deal with mental health, and most mental health programs don’t want to deal with addictions,” she says.

The new funds will be divided, with $37.9 million going to capital grants to buy new housing and $29.7 million to be used to lease and provide support services necessary to help people stay in the homes.

“That’s the ideal, for all those who need it to have some independence of their own,” says Morrison.