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“Everyone needs help” Toronto hosts recruitment to bolster crisis teams

After approving the city-wide expansion of the emergency service tasked with responding to individuals in crisis, Toronto is now looking for professionals to fill its ranks and city officials held at recruitment drive to find people eager to help.

When someone is either witnessing or experiencing a mental health crisis, they can call 211 to be connected with the Toronto Community Crisis Service (TCCS), rather than putting the burden of response on the Toronto Police. A call to the service will connect someone with a trained mental health or crisis worker.

After launching in March of 2022, the service received 6,827 calls with 78 per cent of calls transferred from 911 successfully resolved without police involvement.

In its first year of operations, the TCCS received 6,827 calls for service, with 78 per cent of calls transferred from 911 successfully resolved without police involvement. In that same year, crisis teams followed up with nearly 3,000 people post-crisis and connected more than 1,100 service users to ongoing case management supports.

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Last fall, city council approved the expansion of the program, naming it the city’s fourth emergency service, along with fire, police, and paramedics. The program is budgeted to cost $26.8 million in 2024 and $34.779 million when it is fully implemented in 2026.

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Denise Andrea Campbell, the executive director of the city division overseeing the program, said at the moment about 64 per cent of the city sees coverage from crisis teams. Regional agencies act as anchor partners for the service, with the city providing the logistical support, she said.

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Campbell said the city is currently in the midst of a hiring blitz to fill the remaining ranks needed to take to the remainder of the city. “We are covering as much as we can, but within several months, I’m going to be so thrilled for the mayor to tell you that we are Toronto-wide,” she said. The city has space for 100 additional workers, including support staff and frontline workers.

Anmol Budhiraja is a frontline crisis response specialist with one of the anchor agencies, he said what inspires his work is knowing that if he ever needs help, someone will be there for him. “Everyone needs help one day,” he said. “I want to make sure if it’s tomorrow, me, I want to make sure someone will be there to listen to me.”

The work also includes following up with people after an initial crisis call to make sure they’re continuing to get support. Post-crisis case manager Ron Stoddart said he hears firsthand from clients how the service works better than a general call to the police.

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“I would say seven, maybe eight times out of 10, the clients are appreciative of someone who either looks like them or can really understand them coming into their home or into their place,” Stoddart said.

Both Campbell and Mayor Olivia Chow said if someone needs help and isn’t in one of the areas of the city directly served by the program, they can still call 211 for support. When the program is completely staffed up, Campbell added that response times will significantly improve in all regions of Toronto.

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