It’s time to work together

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It’s not often I find myself at a loss for words during an interview.

A couple of weeks back, I had a Zoom call with Tom Regehr to discuss the work he is doing in the County through his new movement Voice Haliburton. Launched in tandem with a small working group committed to addressing issues surrounding homelessness, mental health and substance abuse in the Highlands, Voice is designed to show some of the community’s most disassociated and disenfranchised people there is a way back from a life of despair and addiction.

I sat for an hour as Regehr outlined his vision, explained his working methods, and went into detail on the circumstances and situations that led him down this path. He spent years in the late 80s and early 90s living on the streets in Brampton and Toronto, addicted to alcohol and a myriad of other substances (see last week’s edition for the full story).

While his story wasn’t unlike others I’ve heard before, I was impressed by the way he was able to not only bring himself back from the brink but launch a successful career advocating for people just like him.

He’s made a difference in just about every community he’s worked in. He got things started here this week, holding an inaugural Voice meeting in Haliburton Feb. 8. Another is scheduled for tonight in Minden. A third will be held via Zoom Feb. 13. He plans to run sessions every two weeks for the foreseeable future, bringing people together in a non-judgement, supportive setting to help them collectively work through their issues.

The more I thought about Tom, Voice and the working group, which features representatives from Point in Time, SIRCH, the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce, and the Haliburton County Public Library, the more I realized the current system we have in place to deal with these concerns is broken.

Most supports and programs today are funded by the province. Maybe it’s time that we saw our lower-tier governments take more of an interest in this kind of work.

I was chatting with a local the other day about a recent story I wrote on Dysart’s 2023 budget. He queried why I hadn’t broken down and provided further analysis on some of the key numbers included. He focused on the $20,501 the township is planning to spend on social and family services this year, saying that was shamefully low when compared to the $2.9 million earmarked for recreation and culture.

And to be honest, he’s right.

While it’s not in a municipality’s mandate to provide the kind of mental health and addiction supports Regehr is focusing on, all our lower-tier councils should be concerned with, and trying to find solutions, for this kind of thing.

It’s not easy work, and there’s no quick fix. It takes time and care to help someone turn their life around.

Credit to Regehr and the Haliburton Mental Health and Substance Use Working Group for recognizing this and guiding people on those first steps towards possible redemption.

It’s hoped our municipal leaders follow suit and get involved too.