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Shared: Vital Signs report identifies poverty, mental health as major Simcoe County issues

Shared: Vital Signs report identifies poverty, mental health as major Simcoe County issues

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SIMCOE COUNTY – Poverty, housing and mental health.

These are among the most significant issues Simcoe County is grappling with, according to Vital Signs, a report released Oct. 6 by the Huronia Community Foundation (HCF) and United Way Simcoe Muskoka at Brooklea Golf and Country Club in Midland.

It is one of 32 community-based Vital Signs reports launched this week across the country as part of a national program overseen by Community Foundations of Canada.

"The goal was to produce a valuable resource for local organizations to reference in their community-building work,” said HCF president Barbara Jones. "Our hope is to spark new conversations and collaborations to further the great work going on across Simcoe and Muskoka."

Giovanna Ferrara, a research consultant who led the project, said the report “paints a picture of who needs help and support in the community.”

Poverty is a major issue of concern for both communities. According to the report, 11 per cent of Simcoe and Muskoka residents live below the poverty line, including 16 per cent of children and 19 per cent of the aboriginal population.

And the demand for social housing has risen significantly, with 500 more people joining the housing wait list since 2011. The average wait time to get into housing in Simcoe County is between three and six years.

“Homelessness is a big issue,” said Jones. “You can see that just by looking at how many people are lining up at the Guesthouse shelter (in Midland) every day.”

Ferrara said a red flag that came up during the research process was the 6,638 Ontario Works cases in Simcoe County in June 2016 alone.

“There is a real demand for these services in this community,” she said. “It’s something that needs to be addressed.”

Another significant issue raised by researchers was health care, in particular mental health. The report noted there were 647 people per 100,000 hospitalized for mental illness in 2013 throughout Simcoe and Muskoka, compared to the Ontario average of 443.

Since 2007, the number of days children and youths have spent in the region’s hospitals with mental-health issues has tripled. Mental-health concerns were also identified as being a significant concern for the LGBT community.

In addition, heavy alcohol use was higher than the provincial average, with the rate of cocaine/crack and hallucinogen (PCP/LSD) use significantly higher than the Ontario rate.

The report also noted 58 per cent of workplaces in Simcoe Muskoka had one to 19 employees, with most of them being part-time or seasonal workers.

“This would be classified as a very small business,” said Ferrara. “This what is driving the economy here.”

But this raised concerns from Emily Harrison, executive director of Contact Community Services in Barrie, who said uncertainty surrounding people’s jobs is a threat to mental health and prosperity. She said efforts must be made to attract more stable work.

“There’s a real trend towards contract work with no benefits or security,” she said. “It gets to a point where it’s almost not justifiable to travel to your job.”

But the report was not all doom and gloom. Ferrara noted there have been significant strides in addressing issues in the housing and health areas, pointing to Simcoe County’s efforts to develop a social-housing strategy and more mental-health workshops and walk-in clinics.

“These clinics are helping to alleviate pressures on the emergency room,” she said. “There’s a need to continue this work to deal with the health concerns of the community.”

Although the report itself did not identify solutions, Ferrara said policymakers and community organizations need to come together to tackle the issues raised.

“Use the report as an important snapshot of the community,” she said. “Use it to create a greater partnership between members of the community.”

The entire report is available at simcoemuskokavitalsigns.ca.

Shared Public Photo/News Source: Simcoe.com View Source

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