Councillor Josh Matlow

A New Approach to Community Safety: Mental Health Crisis Response Pilot Approved

I’m pleased to announce that the advocacy from so many of you last summer resulted in meaningful action at Council this past week. Council approved a pilot project that will see teams of mental health professionals become the first response when Toronto residents are in crisis.

It is estimated that the Toronto Police Service responds to 30,000 mental health crisis calls every year- a 50% increase in just the last 5 years. As provincial funding for these critical services has declined in recent years, it has been left to uniformed officers to respond. It is a task the police are not trained nor suited for and, unfortunately, there have been devastating results for far too many people because of these interactions.

There will be four community teams in the following piloted locations: Downtown East, Northwest, Northeast, and an Indigenous-led team. The initial proposal is to have the pilot run for three years before launching city-wide. However, I was happy to support Mayor Tory’s motion looking at expanding the program sooner.

City Staff have proposed that the pilots be run by community agencies. While I think think this model could work, the Cahoots program in Oregon is run by a community agency, it hasn’t been tried in a city as large as Toronto. I have concerns that a patchwork of community agencies could lead to inconsistent standards of care and geographic gaps. That’s why I proposed that one of the pilots be run by the City of Toronto itself. This motion was approved and will be looked at next year.

While this is a good first step there are other populations including racialized youth, homeless individuals, and those struggling with substance abuse who would be better served by alternatives to policing. We need to keep rethinking what it means for a community to be safe, listen to those with lived experience and experts in these fields, and act to end injustice.

For more information, please see this City Staff report: Agenda Item History – 2021.EX20.1

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