Crisis surfs upon the couches of our communities

A crisis, largely hidden from the casual eye, is taking place in communities across Manitoulin and the North Shore. Health care professionals are keenly aware of this building crisis but are at a loss as to how it can be alleviated with the resources currently available.

Literally, and we do mean literally, hundreds of single adult individuals are struggling with brain injuries that they acquired after they became adults, thereby largely falling through the cracks of our health care system. If those brain injuries were acquired through accident, illness or lifestyle before the afflicted person becomes an adult, there are services available even though to adulthood—but if the injury occurs after they become adults, they are largely out of luck and on their own.

Some have managed to make their way through the world so far by relying on friends and family, couch surfing for shelter and sometimes even resorting to ad hoc tent encampments—even through the depths of winter.

We tend to think of ‘tent cities’ as an urban park phenomenon, but nothing could be further from the truth. Such inadequate housing options have been, and continue to be, resorted to in communities even here on Manitoulin Island.

These are vulnerable people who are falling through the many mental health cracks in our supposedly caring society. While parents, siblings and friends are helping to fill those cracks, many of those caregivers are growing older and will soon be in need of care themselves.

While there are numerous programs aimed at housing those who are challenged by brain injuries, such as the Ontario Disability Support Program, when an individual is challenged by things such as schizophrenia, paying the rent on time becomes a real issue without the support of a more stable mind.

The solution to this crisis is not mysterious or insurmountable. What is needed is a home, much like a nursing home, that is geared to younger, single individuals whose injuries make living on their own a challenge. Island health professionals readily admit that they could fill a 100-bed facility tomorrow with that cohort.

Mental illness is certainly the flavour of the week among policy makers in government, with the isolation and restrictions of the pandemic having brought a veritable tsunami of mental distress upon the world, but this issue has been at crisis proportions from well before COVID-19 raised its hoary head among us.

Oddly, the resources to staff, such a home, actually exist right now, it is just that they are spread out among the dozens of health care professionals who are attempting to deal with the fallout from this crisis in our communities—and many of them are doing so from laptops in their cars due to a lack of administrative facilities.

The cost of this crisis is far from hidden as desperation and despair are leading so many into collision courses with the legal system. The cost of a revolving door series of stints in the courts and incarceration far outstrip the costs of a proactive approach to the crisis.

Communities on Manitoulin with the land and infrastructure to house such a facility exist (Wiikwemkoong easily springs to mind), even the funding for such a group home could likely be shaken loose from the upper tier governments. What is needed is an organization or group to take a leadership role in making it happen.

Manitoulin has the resources largely already in place. Noojmowin Teg Health Services has both the expertise and corporate structure to administer such a facility but it will take a concerted effort on the part of all of Manitoulin’s leadership to look beyond complacent comfort and see the true scope of this issue and work together in order to meet this challenge.

The economic impact of the creation of as many as 60 or more well-paying jobs such a facility would bring to Manitoulin would be a remarkable accomplishment, not to mention the spin-off effects both economically and in human social terms. Community Living Manitoulin has proven time and again how those with intellectual impairment can lead productive and rewarding lives if provided with the supports they need.

As an Island community, Manitoulin has risen to challenges just as great and daunting as this crisis and prevailed. Let us reiterate, this is a crisis, one to which we must not continue to remain blind. The cost of doing nothing is greater, for all of its invisibility, than the cost of building such a facility. We can do better.