Riverdale health group wants provincial candidates to address service issues

An urban health manager in Toronto fears that city service cuts will hurt the most vulnerable of his clients.

The South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC) serves vulnerable Torontonians, including those with mental illness and coping with substance abuse. With the city considering budget cuts and a provincial election underway, the SRCHC wants politicians to talk about preserving these services.

Jason Altenberg, manager of urban health for the SRCHC, said that in many cases they have had to create the services that their clients need because they simply aren’t available in the current health-care system.

“We’ve actually had to build the services here because we can’t get services for people in the traditional mental health or substance use system,” he said. “In partnership with others we’ve developed services because we just can’t get people into anything.”

SRCHC Community Engagement Co-ordinator Susan Bender said that those dealing with mental illness and substance abuse often depend on public transit or Wheel-Trans. These people don’t have a lot of money; therefore they don’t have a lot of options. Wait lists for detoxifying programs are already long. The services available are minimal and the possibility that the services could be cut creates fear in the community.

In preparation for the upcoming provincial election, the SRCHC will hold a community forum.

“We know that all sorts of promises may or may not be made during elections and our real work happens after that. If we’ve already been active during the campaign, then we’ve got a stronger foundation,” Bender said.

The SRCHC has invited a number of advocacy groups to speak at the forum. Among those that have been invited is the Ontario Mental Health and Addictions Alliance. The focus of the meeting will be examining the finances surrounding public transit, mental health and substance use.

The groups attending are looking to the provincial election as a way to raise the concerns that they have regarding transit, mental health and substance use. They want the candidates to take a stand on the issues.

“We want to have some discussion about what the reality is around budgets and fiscal choices. We know that there are often options and alternatives that don’t get any airtime,” Bender said. “We know that both the province and feds have a huge role to play in ensuring that there is sustainable funding… They need to be in on solving this problem,” she said.

Altenberg said that he does not see a huge difference between the parties regarding health care.

“When it comes to health issues the parties are all a little different in how they approach health. One of the things that we’ve seen in the campaigning so far is that nobody is talking about reductions to supporting health. The dialogue around health will be much more about how it’s done, not whether or not it’s important,” he said.

The forum will be held on Tuesday Sept. 20 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the SRCHC, located at 955 Queen St. E.