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Transforming Mental Health and Substance Use Crisis Response in Ottawa

Executive Summary

A series of incidents and tragedies in recent years has highlighted the weaknesses and gaps in Ottawa’s current mental health and substance use system, including crisis response. These incidents triggered the recognition that there was a need to examine crisis response in Ottawa through a social justice, anti-racist and anti-colonial lens. Chronic underfunding of mental health and substance use services has resulted in a lack of appropriate available support to respond to crises, and the police have become the de facto responders, often with negative outcomes especially for racialized people. The Ottawa Guiding Council for Mental Health and Addictions (Guiding Council) was first convened in consequence of a motion (January 2021) by the Ottawa Police Services Board to respond to pressure from Ottawa community members to examine alternatives to a police response for mental health and substance use crises. The City of Ottawa mandated the Guiding Council to propose a culturally appropriate, trauma-informed enhanced or new crisis response system such that outcomes will be improved for Ottawa residents experiencing these crises. A Secretariat was established in 2022 to conduct consultations and gather input to be used to develop a 24/7 crisis response strategy for implementation in Ottawa. 

The community engagement strategy was rooted in a community development approach to capture the voices of those who are most affected by the issue at hand. For most communities, the entry point was through community champions and/or facilitators who had rapport and trusting relationships with community groups and who recruited participants and/or helped to facilitate conversations. Three methods were used to engage community members: virtual and in-person focus group consultations, online surveys and one-on-one interviews. While the full Ottawa community was encouraged to participate, there was outreach to specific communities: Somali; the African, Caribbean and Black community, racialized people including South Asian, Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern; the 2SLGBTQ+ community; Francophones; people living with homelessness; street-involved community members; people using substances; newcomers; youth (ages 12-24); academics; faith community leaders; people living in rural and urban areas; and Guiding Council members and their respective networks. Early in the process, the Indigenous community decided not to participate directly in the Guiding Council as they were developing their own Indigenous Mental Well-Being Strategy. 

Semi-structured discussion guides, one-on-one interview questions as well as survey questions were developed based on the objectives and aims of the community engagement strategy. The guides and questions used a trauma-informed approach, and input was sought from community organizations.

Over 1,190 people across Ottawa participated. Those participating in focus group consultations or interviews were paid an honorarium, as were community champions, facilitators and notetakers. Survey respondents were offered the chance to participate in a draw for a gift card. Jewish Family Services provided counselling support as needed to participants, and Mental Health First Aiders were also on hand to provide support.

Contact Us

815, boulevard St Laurent
Suite 107, Ottawa, Ontario

Canada, K1K 3A7
guidingcouncil@cesoc.ca
613-304-8330

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