Kitchener – Today, Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic along with stakeholders and mayors from some of Canada’s biggest cities met to discuss the urgent need to address Canada’s mental health crisis. Mayor Vrbanovic was joined by local stakeholders, Helen Fishburn, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo-Wellington, and John Neufeld, Executive Director of the House of Friendship, who has been championing their ShelterCare approach to supportive housing. The meeting was convened by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Big City Mayors’ Caucus (BCMC) as part of its multi-year Urban Project initiative.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded mental health issues, which were already one of the most critical crises facing cities and communities across Canada and around the world. Action requires cross-sector collaboration, and this Urban Project meeting brought mayors together with academics, practitioners, and others to develop a mental health toolkit for Canada’s cities.

“Mental health issues have serious impacts on the individuals who are struggling as well as others throughout our community,” said City of Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic. “Cities and businesses can’t thrive economically and socially if we don’t address the mental health challenges faced by some of our citizens.  We know that when one person struggles with mental health issues, it not only impacts that person directly, but it also impacts their family, friends and businesses throughout the community.  Early prevention and ongoing treatment will go a long way to support individuals and our community.”

Mental health issues have been slowly de-stigmatized over the past number of years, but there is still a long way to go.  The prevention and treatment of mental health issues needs to be viewed in the same way as people who suffer physical injuries, like broken arms or trauma from car accidents.  Although mental health has received some additional resources in recent years, it still seems to lag behind in the health care system.

“In order to take mental health support to the next level, we really need to develop national standards,” said Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington CEO Helen Fishburn. “For example, we are the only G7 country to not have a national suicide prevention framework.  We need an integrated, resourced, all-of-government national mental health strategy if we are going to make a significant impact on mental health issues in Canada.”

Mental health issues can manifest in different ways, including homelessness and addiction.  Recently, governments have announced more support for affordable housing, which is welcome news for municipalities and local organizations.  While more housing is still needed, constructing mental health treatment centres with wrap-around services needs to also be considered.  These centres, along with staffing, are needed so people with mental health issues can continue their rehabilitation, instead of having people in and out of the justice system or emergency rooms.

“Mental health issues can be quite complex,” said House of Friendship Executive Director John Neufeld.  “By the time somebody comes to our shelter, they could have had a lifetime of mental health and abuse issues, which they are coping with through addiction and results in living on the street.  Shelters are a part of the solution, but we need wrap-around, ongoing mental health and addiction services and supports to really help these people get their lives back on track.  While our Sheltercare program has been successful at providing these wrap-around services and supports, we know that we need more of these programs and services to make a significant difference across Canada.  This can only be done with a coordinated national strategy, sustainable and ongoing funding, and with all orders of government at the table and working together.” 

The Urban Project, led by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), is a forum to leverage expertise—within all orders of government, civil society, the private sector and academia—to explore urban challenges and scalable solutions to improve the lives of Canadians. Previous UP events explored innovative economies, rental housing affordability, transit and road safety, COVID-19 and mobility, and city building and intensification.

Led by FCM, this Urban Project event was generously supported by the J.W. McConnell Foundation, Shaw Communications, Ceridian and the Canadian Medical Association, and are pleased to work with the University of Toronto’s School of Cities and the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance.


For more information please contact:

Paul Grivicic, Chief of Staff
City of Kitchener

Bethany Rowland, Director of Corporate Communications & Marketing
City of Kitchener

Helen Fishburn, CEO
Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington
1-844-264-2993 ext 2029

John Neufeld, Executive Director
House of Friendship
519-742-8327 ext 123