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Niagara politicians, activists push for action on mental health, homelessness, and addiction

An effort to declare a state of emergency on mental health, homelessness, and addiction in Niagara is back in the political realm.

Social activist Steven Soos was driving the issue last year, encouraging Niagara West MP Dean Allison to sponsor a federal petition, e-3351, for the cause. Soos and Niagara Falls City Councillor Wayne Campbell sold 11 of the 12 Niagara municipalities on the concept earlier in the year, with Lincoln being the sole holdout. The request failed at the Regional level, where an alternative motion was drafted and received approval.

Now Thorold City Councillor Carmen DeRose is championing the cause, pushing for reconsideration.

“I presented the declaration as a Notice of Motion, so it will be brought forward at the next meeting as a motion on June 7 for discussion,” DeRose told the Voice.

“The new goal is to revisit Niagara area municipalities, and encourage as many as possible to declare the emergency. If they supported the initial request, we are asking them to go a bit further and actually declare,” said Soos. “Niagara went from 620 opiate overdoses in 2020 to 1001 last year. The point is that the need is greater now than it was before.”

The declaration specifies that approximately 665 residents, including 121 children in Niagara, were counted as homeless in March of 2021, and that Niagara Emergency Medical Services (EMS) reported 1001 suspected opioid overdoses in 2021, with 210 suspected opioid overdoses thus far in 2022.

Niagara’s suicide rate of 9.8 deaths per 100,000, according to StatsCan, is higher than the provincial average of 7.7.

Soos said that the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General, Emergency Management Ontario, the Premier of Ontario, the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, all Niagara-area MPPs, and all Niagara sub-municipalities have been copied on the resolution.