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‘Attractive opportunity’ for housing, mental health ministers to join forces: Expert

OTTAWA – There is an “exciting opportunity” for the new housing minister and the minister of mental health and addiction to work together at the crossroads of homelessness and mental health, one expert says.

Dr Mary Bartram, director of substance use and policy at the Canadian Mental Health Commission, said that while the two ministries working together can be effective, the government needs to support them with funding. .

“It is quite possible that the opportunities of these new ministries are only as strong as the resources behind them,” she said.

Bartram said the government can take two steps to start addressing the issues discovered in her organization’s research: an immediate step and a longer-term step.

The immediate first step could be taken before next year’s federal budget is created, she said.

As Canadians head into winter, Bartram said the focus can be on assistance such as emergency relief for the homeless and income support for the service sector workforce. homeless people.

“Now is the time to look at those things and start those things,” she said.

In the long run, she says, federally announced initiatives like increasing the housing supply, substance use strategies and mental health strategies would do very well if they come together.

“So it’s not in the silo, it’s that they’re looking at this complex issue together,” says Bartram.

Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen said in an interview with The Canadian Press that he and Minister for Mental Health and Addiction Carolyn Bennett “will have a very close relationship.”

Citing the Liberals’ national housing strategy, Hussen said the government understands “the importance of observing our efforts to ensure that people with mental health challenges are also addressed.” in our housing policy.”

The national co-investment fund, which is managed by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Hussen adds, to build, repair or convert affordable housing, funds projects that incorporate other services such as health, mental health, counseling services and substance use.

Bennett, who was recently appointed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet, said in an interview that both the national mental health and housing strategy needed to be taken from the bottom up.

“It’s working with people who have the expertise, but also the life experience, so that we can identify the things that are working and can scale them into a truly integrated strategy,” she said.

She added that she will be looking for leaders at all levels of government to be able to move quickly.

In April, housing advocates applauded the government’s expansion of the one-year, $1.5 billion budget for the rapid housing initiative, a program that funds construction modular homes and converting existing buildings into affordable housing.

The initiative originally planned to make 3,000 units but exceeded its goal with 4,500 units. Hussen said that number is closer to 4,700.

However, Canada’s budget watchdog said in a report in August that the Liberal Party’s national housing strategy had had limited impact, citing that, among other reasons, the government spent less than half of funding on housing programs, and community housing transactions with the provinces have expired.

Yves Giroux, the parliament’s budget official, estimates the number of households needing housing will grow to about 1.8 million by around 2025 unless more funding is provided.

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 4, 2021.

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This story was made possible with the financial support of Facebook and the Canada Press News Fellowship.

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