CORNWALL, Ontario – Poverty and mental health in our community were two main priorities discussed at the Cornwall Civic Complex on Wednesday, July 10 among members of the public and Vibrant Communities, an initiative of the Social Development Council (SDC) of Cornwall and Area.
The focus group of about 100 individuals (some attending via webcam) met to brainstorm strategies to improve local safety and well-being, with intentions of informing a comprehensive plan that will serve the region of Cornwall, SDG and Akwesasne. The plan is set to be presented to municipalities and stakeholders in the region by March of 2020.
Carilyne Hébert, Executive Director of the SDC, said the plan will take a proactive approach and specifically prioritize mental health, poverty, health services and community safety. The goal of the focus group was to begin the process of discussion and identifying core issues, as well as beginning to brainstorm possible solutions to these issues.
Over the summer, Vibrant Communities will attend county fairs, libraries and malls throughout the region in an effort to gain the feedback of at least 700 locals. The initiative is aiming to garner as much public engagement and data as possible to better inform how to prioritize services and offer innovative solutions.
“We are looking to get beyond supporting people when they are in need, we want to prevent them from having to rely on those services,” said Hébert. “When the action plan is implemented, we likely won’t see results for years, because the nature of it…maybe in 10 years, we will see a poverty reduction of 2 per cent in the region, and that’s a win because that’s 600 (more) people in our community that would be living above the poverty line (for example).”
Vibrant Communities first came to fruition in early 2018, prior to the province legislating a mandatory implementation of a Community and Safety Well-being Plan in each municipality. Having already started the process, Vibrant Communities has stepped up to take on the assessment process, as the initiative’s goals align perfectly with the intention of the provincial planning.
“We’ve got history…with Vibrant Communities, anybody is welcome to join, and we have a list of 200 people from across the region, from all kinds of backgrounds, who are…committed to being a part of this. So, we already have this group of people who are ready to see this through, so that’s the benefit here,” said Hébert. “Where other municipalities will likely hire a consultant to do this plan, and then council will have to figure out what to do with it…we are not leaving this in council’s hands…it will be Vibrant Communities’ mandate to implement this, of course ideally with the support of our municipalities. We don’t want to depend on governments, we want to have the whole community involved…(although) funding is very important and collective impact assessments are very successful.”
Hébert said that mental health was the standout topic of the focus group as it predominately impacts the other main priorities. She said that working towards better programming for each priority might involve practices as easy as having organizations work together on certain projects, developing more tangible resource lists and introducing slight policy adjustments.
During one brainstorming session of the mental health focus group, one team expressed their idea of including risk prevention strategies in schools and community organizations, as well as more education about mental health conditions and early risk assessment/screening.
Hébert said a list of where the Vibrant Communities will set up this summer to get public feedback will be made available on the SDC website and Facebook soon.