Published on November 16, 2023 by Kenneth Armstrong from Sootoday

A regional tourism organization says the mental health and addictions crisis in Sault Ste. Marie is having a negative impact on tourism across the north and it wants to be a part of the solution.

The Northern Ontario Tourism Summit is underway in Sault Ste. Marie, with information sessions including cycling tourism, fish and wildlife updates and funding opportunities for tourism businesses. Also on the agenda this year was a panel discussion held Wednesday titled: Addressing the Mental Health, Addiction and Homelessness Crisis in Northern Ontario.

Mental Health, Addiction and Homelessness may seem like an out of place topic at a tourism summit, but Destination Northern Ontario board chair Marty Kalagian said those issues reverberate through the entire industry. Not content with only pointing out the challenges created by the crisis, the organization passed a resolution during its recent annual general meeting pledging its support to address the issue.

Marchand noted that Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in the homeless population across the north.

“Here in Sault Ste. Marie, at least 68 per cent of people experiencing homelessness are Indigenous. As you move further north to Timmins, or on the other side of the province Kenora and Sioux Lookout areas, 90-plus per cent of the people experiencing homelessness are Indigenous,” said Marchand. “Right now there is a serious mismatch in the volume of people experiencing homelessness and the resources that are allocated to address this issue.”

He called the criminal justice, health care and child and family services systems factories that create homelessness issues. He noted over 50 per cent of people experiencing homelessness have experience with child and family services systems in the first 18 years of their lives.

“There are more Indigenous children in care right now than there were at the height of residential schools. We have already seen this movie play, we know what happens when you rip children away from their culture and away from their family. The movie does not end well,” said Marchand.

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*Photo by Kenneth Armstrong from Sootoday