Community wellbeing is everyone’s problem and opportunity
BY MICHAEL ALLEN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, UNITED WAY EAST ONTARIO
NO MATTER HOW many years have passed since I last returned to school in the fall, this time of year always brings feelings of another beginning. This year in particular, I encourage us all to embrace the opportunities in front of us – to consciously make the most of the time we have here and commit to building a stronger community.
While I want to feel a sense of optimism as we emerge from what has been a terribly difficult few years, my hope is balanced against an acknowledgement that this moment in time is challenging for so many people. While many of the strains of the pandemic feel behind us, we continue to see the compounded issues of inflation and the rising cost of living; labour shortages; wealth disparities; supply chain issues; increased demand for under-resourced social services; distrust in public institutions . . . the list goes on.
Chances are, you know someone struggling with their mental health. Maybe there’s a child in your life finding school a challenge, or a friend who isn’t coping well with family life or work. You or someone you know may have experienced the death of a loved one, or an unexpected crisis.
We see the fallout of poor mental health affect our loved ones, our neighbours, and our ability to do business. We are reminded of it, starkly, when we walk along the streets of downtown Ottawa.
One in five Canadians reported that they needed help with their mental health in the past year, but 45 per cent felt their needs were unmet or only partially met. The pandemic exacerbated the complex problems our community was already facing, and caused significant strain for social services responding on the frontlines.
Housing and homelessness. Poverty and basic needs. Seniors and caregiver support. Mental health and addictions.
These issues are not someone else’s problem – community wellbeing is everyone’s problem. Keeping our community strong is essential to our ability to bounce back from the barriers that have held us back since March 2020.
Our goals are safety, health, and prosperity for everyone, and a strong local economy enables that. We must revitalize Ottawa’s downtown, but more than that, we must take an all-hands-on-deck approach to strengthening the social safety net. When local business partners work with United Way to truly invest in their neighbourhoods, we can deliver even greater impact where we play, live, and work.
Last fall, United Way East Ontario brought together the Ottawa Board of Trade and Ottawa and District Labour Council to host a mayoral debate ahead of the election in Ottawa. We continue to advocate together to ensure social justice, labour rights, and economic prosperity are pursued concurrently on the city’s agenda – not as separate interests.
So as autumn leaves turn to winter flurries, and I look to the future of our city, the potential for innovation stirs my optimism: the challenges may sometimes feel insurmountable, but I know the power of partnership can deliver real change. I invite you to join us by reaching out to Partnership@UnitedWayEO.ca.