Monday, April 27, 2015

Mental health and homelessness in Langley

Over the last few decades, the federal and provincial governments have been downloading responsibilities to deliver services to local governments without equipping local governments with the financial resources to deliver these services adequately. Transit service in Metro Vancouver is a case in point.

Sometimes federal and provincial governments don’t adequately provide services which impact local communities, but local governments have their hands tied on what they can do.

My mother was a mental health nurse, and I remember her telling me about the gradual shutdown of the Riverview Hospital and the deinstitutionalization of mental health clients in BC. This was and is a good thing. This provincial government was to fund smaller facilities, provide resources to help people with developmental debilities living within their communities, and provide services for people with mental health issues to be able to live within the community while giving them the services they need.

Of course, Riverview was slowly closed, but all the promised community-based services were never fully funded. Some people with mental health issues and developmental disabilities have ended up on the street.

In Langley City, homelessness is a major concern. Unfortunately, the local government doesn’t have the mandate or the resources to deal with the complexities of mental health and homelessness.

A few days ago, I was outside a restaurant in Langley. A person who was living on the streets was clearly in need of mental health services, but instead police and fire services arrived. These services are funded by local government, but there is very little they could do to help. The BC Ambulance Service arrived about 10 minutes after the police and fire services arrived on the scene. The paramedics did a check to make sure that the person didn’t need to be admitted to emergency. After that, all the first responders left, leaving the person still on the street, and still in the front of the restaurant.

It seems to me that there should have been a mental health case worker assigned to assess the needs of this person. Of course, funding for mental health is limited in BC.

Getting back to homelessness in Langley, while the City of Langley can certainly advocate for better mental health care in the province, train their first responders on best practices around mental health, and even work to ensure that we are building inclusive communities, the provincial government has a huge role to pay. Without the provincial government adequately providing support for people with mental health issues, Langley will not be able to meaningfully address mental health and homelessness in the community.

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