Three angry men and a triple crisis in Durham region

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Leaders of an embattled Ontario community describe their frustrations battling a crisis of drug addiction, mental illness and homelessness

. Though the region set a goal of eliminating homelessness by 2024, the unhoused population has been rising instead. The number of fatal drug overdoses reached 129 in 2021, seven times the figure in 2013.

Chief Moreira tells every politician that will listen that things will get worse unless the country invests in better mental-health treatment. “It is a massive gap and we need to start treating mental illness seriously,” he says. “It underpins everything that we deal with.” He lists off some numbers. Twenty-two people a day die of opioid overdoses in Canada. About 240,000 Canadians have no home, a scandal in “one of the richest countries in the world.” Untold numbers suffer from mental illness, some of them sleeping on sidewalks. The crisis is so severe that, by rights, “it’s got to be on the front page every single day.”The drain on Durham’s resources is enormous.

Once in a while, he says, a higher government will throw Durham a lifeline – a funding announcement here, a supportive remark there – but much of the time he feels “we’re an island, trying to fend for ourselves.” Nor are they laying all the blame at the feet of others. Mr. Carter, the mayor, says he has made mistakes himself. One was putting most of the services for vulnerable people in one place: a strip of downtown Oshawa. That drew predators and worsened the disorder on the streets, he says, angering residents and business owners. “That was a critical error. I take full responsibility for that.”

 

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