Niagara advocate pushing region to declare emergency on mental health, homelessness

By Evan Loree
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Lake Report

After four years of trying in vain, an advocate from Niagara is hoping to convince regional council to declare homelessness, mental health and addiction public emergencies.

“I think I’m gonna see a lot of changed hearts and a lot of changed minds,” Steven Soos told The Lake Report.

Before the proposal can make it to council, it will first be reviewed by the region’s public health committee Feb. 14, he said. 

When his proposal last came to the region in fall 2021 it was dismissed, though it received endorsements from 11 of Niagara’s 12 lower-tier municipalities.

The region formally acknowledged the issues raised by Soos, but stopped short of declaring a state of emergency.

Soos self-identifies as Metis and traces his ancestry back to his grandfather. 

He sees the region’s “watered-down response” to the triple threat crisis as another broken promise to Indigenous people. 

According to Statistics Canada, 12 per cent of First Nations people living off reserve have experienced homelessness.

Statistics Canada also estimates the rate of suicide in Indigenous groups is three times that of non-Indigenous groups.

The rate of alcohol-related deaths in Aboriginal communities is also twice that of the the general population, according to research by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

Soos believes if council passes his motion, the region will be able to get a “co-ordinated response” from the province.

He said the region can drum up additional support and funding for the crisis by “using the same legislation” used to respond to COVID-19.

Long-term, he wants the federal government to conduct a national study on the emergency of mental health.