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Homeless Facts

In the 2008 Homeless Count there were AT LEAST 3,062 people homeless in Metro Vancouver.

Since 2002, there has been a shocking 137% increase in overall homelessness and a 373% increase in the number of people sleeping outside. /.

Clarence Hincks Speech to Gala Awards Dinner Canadian Mental Health Association

Dr. Nancy Hall’s acceptance speech

Oct 22, 2010

London, Ontario

Thank you so very much for this, the Clarence Hincks award for outstanding leadership in mental health in Canada. I am deeply grateful to be named in the same breath with Dr. Clarence Hincks. He is a renown self advocate. He was the founder of CMHA, the largest non-profit voluntary mental health organization in Canada with 134 branches in all of our provinces and has over 100, 000 members.

I am a family member. I changed my life because of my brother’s mental illness. After I saw how we were treated I knew things just had to be better for folks with serious brain irregularities.

From 1998-2001 I served as BC’s first and only mental health advocate. In 2001, the position was eliminated but my position as big sister was not. I kept looking to see where I could leverage change. And I have. There was the Tazering incident at YVR where I was subsequently asked to testify to the Braidwood Inquiry by CMHA. Yes the police do need better mental health crisis intervention skills and as first responders thankfully this is moving along. They are people too.

I have also worked to address the epidemic of homelessness among people with serious mental illness. I researched and was part of the team who wrote the Street to Home Foundation’s 2010 Three Year Plan to Address Homelessness in Vancouver. In 2007 a report from Simon Fraser University suggested there were approximately 11, 000 homeless and concurrently disordered people in BC alone. The numbers grow as we don’t practice prevention.

So the theme of this conference is not just surviving but thriving. And there are many positive examples at this meeting. Shelagh Roger’s panel this afternoon was a shining example of individuals who are living well with mental illness and want to share their stories.

But overall, we are still in a national crisis with regards to mental health care. Clarence would simply want us to do better.

Consider a quick fact check on the Mental Health of Canadians:

  • One in five will experience a mental health episode this year.
  • Three in ten will get help; one in six if you are a kid.
  • Only 50% of those who do get help get what they need and most get a half a dose of care meaning not intensive enough to make well-being stick.
  • Canada spends the lowest amount on mental health care than any other OECD country. We spend 7 cents out of every health care dollar on mental health care.

But maybe its ok not to spend more money on the crash and burn system we have now. The system has transited from asylum care to the so called community sector. Big mental health plans are made; small efforts are launched and money runs out. The basic fact is that the system is still anchored in deficit based thinking. Think of the language of mental disorders and would you want to own one? And treatment is largely pharmaceutical. Psychiatrists and former government bureaucrats chair the national committees that decide strategic directions. Toronto based consultants are employed to write reports.

Meanwhile CMHA branches doing the foot soldier work on the ground are starved for resources to do their all-important work. And frankly many lack capacity to do the best quality work as there are no funds for training and development.

CMHA national, the root of the movement is starved for funding to provide a national leadership voice. We have a Mental Health Commission who thinks they should be doing that. But at the end of the day it isn’t an either or.

While we are fighting on the side, Stephen Harper is developing Canada’s national mental health strategy by investing in prisons which are estimated to cost us $ 5 billion just to get going. Do the policy wonks in Ottawa not realize that we have a homeless epidemic and at this point, one third of people in jail are usually found to be mentally ill?

Given the events of the past two weeks, I think Clarence Hincks would want us to be inspired by the Chilean Miner’s story. Wasn’t it a glorious moment for humanity?

What did the miners do? They had an impossible problem to solve. They spent about 5 days fighting and thinking about death. Then they found hope. They rallied as a community to meet every day at noon. They prayed. They gave everyone a job to make it work.

And as the grass roots formed a vibrant community in the mineshaft, innovative leadership emerged at the top. They used the best knowledge of management science. They set out a four point action plan and set up teams. They worked across professional boundaries and they brought in people who might be able to help from other sectors. And they solved the problem.

Now CMHA has the community but we need to keep giving it hope and power to do its job. The solution that Clarence would speak about was a peer vision grounded in hope of recovery. We are going that way but CMHA needs to fully engage it. As a national organization we need to upscale our communications and use of web based tools that promote ongoing communication and collaboration.

I have given some thoughts to the ingredients of this new system:

It would be based upon thinking people have assets not on deficits. It would focus on resilience thinking. It would join hands with the ecological thinking that we are engaged with as we struggle to overcome the transition to a post carbon life style. People are resilient and honouring diversity and a place for everyone is part of what makes us strong.

It would provide social and supportive housing but not just housing alone. The housing would be integrated. We must stop rebuilding segregated housing for single adults with mental illness. Nice as they are, they are simply rebuilding the institutions in the community.

It would emphasize the workplace and community and make sure people have jobs that gives them something of value to do in the social world. Together we are better. Isolated we are a disaster. Do you know in Vancouver as the government has renovated SRO hotel rooms for homeless people, people leave their government funded suites to sleep in the shelter at First United Church where there is an incredible sense of community.

Professionals are going to be fewer because we can’t afford them. So they are going to have to stop rescuing people and taking away people’s power. I like the new language of community mental health workers and navigators. By developing the community in the community of the mineshaft the Chilean miners showed us a different way. People can and do creatively self-organize to protect the vulnerable and keep peace in the valley. That is the message.

People living with a mental illness also have to learn something different. They have to be willing to step up and find out about their brain irregularities. Scientists are discovering that our brains are enormously plastic. They can be rerouted. People can and do recover. Learn what you can about the findings of the neuroplasticity research. It will inspire you to hope.

And finally…some don’t recover. Fewer now that we thought will still live with a serious disability that needs care and protection. We need to be able to provide calm and quiet support for people. It is reasonable that any community must have a place of mental health respite for its people. It doesn’t have to be a long stay hospital or a facility but it has to be accessible when people need it. We are slow to be building these non-medical crises places. The Gerstein Centre in Toronto is one such place. The Calgary Mobile team honoured tonight is another example. The aging of the population we will need secure places for elders with various forms of dementia. We don’t need jails for grandpas but we do need safe places to be. Could we support families and friends to Stand by Me?

And we do need policies that provide caregiver support for those largely women who take time from the work place and family to support someone with a brain irregularity in the most important early stages. This support is as critical as any medication offered by an early psychosis Program.  Bravo for Mr. Ignatieff’s policy proposal on tax breaks for family caregivers.

We desperately need to go forward and in a different way. Remember the Chilean Miners. They had a problem and they came together to dedicate the resources of society with the resources of the individuals directly involved in an innovative and unconventional way. We can do it too. I have no doubt that Clarence would see things in the same way. Our work that was once his work, is not done. The system can be better, but it is up to us to make it so.