EXPERT ADVISORY: 3 March 2023 – R0018
Niagara Regional Council recently voted to declare three separate states of emergency for homelessness, mental health and opioid addiction, appealing to the federal and provincial government for help in dealing with these crises.
Three Brock University researchers are available to comment on issues surrounding this development.
Darlene Ciuffetelli Parker, a Professor in the Department of Educational Studies and Director of Teacher Education, conducts research with schools and non-profit communities on poverty-related issues, particularly focusing on high-risk populations and the impact of poverty on schools and communities.
She was among a Brock University team that partnered with Niagara Region to examine the Niagara Prosperity Initiative (NPI) and its impact on neighbourhoods across the region.
“Based on my research, the connection to homelessness, mental health and addiction as a state of emergency, sorrowfully, is a reality we can no longer ignore,” she says.
Ciuffetelli Parker says the intersections of poverty, homelessness, health and stigmatization “requires ‘front-burner’ urgent action, given especially the pandemic’s effects on the most vulnerable in our society.”
She calls for support “through a wider federal-provincial sustained establishment of communal connectedness and inclusion as a human right. It is through transformative powers and policies that marginalized populations may acquire skills, opportunities, well-being and social needs inherent to their success beyond limited participation in community programs and services.”
Joanne Heritz, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Research Associate in the Niagara Community Observatory, headed up a research partnership with YWCA Niagara Region last year, which concluded in the policy brief “Improving Safe and Affordable Housing for Women in Niagara, Before and After COVID-19.”
Several key points have emerged from Heritz’s research, including:
- People who are working full-time making minimum wage or a living wage cannot afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Niagara.
- People are in situations where they are renting rooms and fearful for their safety because they do not know their roommates.
- The recent increases in social assistance came “nowhere near” addressing housing and food costs. Indigenous Peoples in Niagara and immigrants disproportionately experience homelessness compared to the general population, she says.
- Hidden homelessness is more prevalent for women who strive to avoid the dangers of the street for their children and stay in unsafe relationships.
“In Niagara, there is a desperate need for housing with supports to assist people who are facing trauma caused by homelessness, addictions and mental health challenges,” says Heritz.
Scott Neufeld is a lecturer in the Department of Psychology whose research focuses on substance use and housing and homelessness. He says that although some feel such declarations are “largely performative,” it’s important to raise awareness of the “drug toxicity crisis” and other issues.
“Added awareness can’t hurt and any positive movement or acknowledgement from local politicians is a welcome sign,” he says.
Neufeld recommends several measures that should be taken to address local crises, such as:
- Expanding the number, type and scope of supervised drug consumption sites.
- Urging the Ontario government to remove its “arbitrary cap” on the number of Consumption and Treatment Services sites it will allow in Ontario, “which is rooted in stigma and not the actual emergency public health needs of people at risk of toxic drug death.”
Darlene Ciuffetelli Parker, Brock Professor in the Department of Educational Studies, Joanne Heritz, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, and Scott Neufeld, lecturer in the Department of Psychology, are available for media interviews on the topic.
For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:
* Doug Hunt, Communications and Media Relations Specialist, Brock University firstname.lastname@example.org or 905-941-6209
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