City council approves city-wide expansion of Community Crisis Service

City council voted unanimously to create what will be a fourth emergency service - beyond police, fire and paramedics - for mental health calls. Community support teams would be dispatched when needed instead. Mark McAllister reports.

Toronto City Council on Thursday unanimously approved the expansion of the Toronto Community Crisis Service program citywide.

The program, referred to as Toronto’s fourth emergency service, will see mental health experts respond to calls involving people in crisis instead of the police service. According to a city report, in 2022 – the first year of the pilot program – the program received 6,827 calls for service and 78 per cent of calls transferred from 9-1-1 were “successfully resolved” without police intervention.

“We need a different response to people in mental health crisis and an appropriate response that is more caring,” said Mayor Olivia Chow. “By having [Toronto Community Crisis Service] available city-wide police would be able to focus on the cause they need to respond to and hopefully they can respond faster.”

The program was introduced after several incidents involving police resulted in the death of those who might have otherwise been helped through a mental health crisis expert.

Coun. Mike Colle suggests the service can offer a benefit to all involved in the future.

“The police are being asked to do everything and the police right now have to go into all these situations that are really out of their control and it’s very dangerous for them and they go in their armed,” he explained.

An evaluation of the pilot showed that 95 per cent of those who used Toronto Community Crisis Service program were satisfied and 90 per cent thought it had a positive impact on how they perceive community safety.

“What we’ve seen the results of being able to direct people to the right and appropriate services, making sure that emergency responders are going where they are needed most,” said Deputy Mayor and Coun. Ausma Malik. “It is efficient and effective and cost-effective, and that’s what’s really important about this service.”

The Toronto Community Crisis Service program currently costs the city $14 million. Expansion of the program would double that figure in 2024 and would increase to almost $35 million by 2026.

Council is set to ask the provincial government to fund expansion of the program on a 75/25 cost-sharing funding model for public health services as well as asking for an increase in investments to close the service gaps in mental health services and addiction recovery programs.

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