Empowering tenant leaders to change the way we address mental health

Mental health affects us all. There is now an increased focus on prioritizing mental health support and combating the mental health crisis in the city.

Black tenant leaders have urged TCHC to provide them with tools and resources to help address mental health issues within their communities. At the 2022 Tenant Action Tables, they requested more opportunities for Black tenant leaders to meet and have healthy conversations about mental health.

Responding to the call, The Centre for Advancing the Interests of Black People (“The Centre”) has worked with tenants and community partners to create initiatives that are holistic and culturally responsive. The Centre’s Education and Advocacy Consultant Zhora Adatia and her team of Tenant Training Facilitators, took the lead in providing mental health training opportunities for tenants. “As part of the Confronting Anti-Black Racism (CABR) Strategy, The Centre launched the Black tenant leaders’ mental health roundtable, which is aimed to work with partners and the community to break down systemic barriers that are preventing tenants from accessing health and mental health services,” Zhora said.

On April 15, 2023, the Centre hosted its first Black tenant mental health roundtable with tenant leaders from ten communities across the east region. In partnership with TAIBU Community Health Centre’s Mobile Crisis Team, the roundtable featured workshops on recognizing the signs of a mental health crisis, how to get support, and how to take care of one’s mental health.

For tenant leader Chevon Smith, this was an opportunity to connect with other tenant leaders to discuss the mental health challenges in TCHC communities.

“The Black Mental Health Round table was a great experience because I got to hear from other tenants in different regions. Hearing about the challenges Black tenants are facing, and how they have dealt with them, are incredibly valuable,” he said. “Through the open discussion with tenants, I learned that lack of communication is a major issue that requires a collective effort by tenants and staff to be remedied.”

Another important aspect of the roundtable was educating tenant leaders about the non-police led mobile crisis support and follow-up care offered by TAIBU, and how they can access it.

Community Crisis Response Specialist Mia Benight, highlighted the difference between calling 211 and 911 for a crisis call. As well she talked about the benefits of having a crisis response specialist present with the police during a crisis call.

“Our team is responsible for responding to 211 calls and working in collaboration with Toronto Police and EMS,” said Mia. “Being there for the people comes first. When we are present, often the police will take a step back and allow us to de-escalate the situation.”

The tenant leaders who attended the event appreciated the information and materials provided by TAIBU; particularly having a better understanding of how to ask for support specialists during a crisis call. For them, the roundtable was a great starting point and they hope to see more tenant engagement and discussions on mental health services and support.

Currently Chevon has taken the information he learned at the roundtable back to his community. “I am taking responsibility for communicating the wealth of mental health resources that tenants may not be aware of. I am currently in talks to get the information in the CMHA Mental Health Quick Guide, (which was distributed at the event), on the tenants’ bulletin boards in my building.”

Based on the other feedback received from tenant leaders, The Centre team plans to develop system navigation workshops for Black tenant leaders and partner with other organizations to host mental health workshops in the west region.

Are you interested in working with The Centre to bring CABR training and programs to your community? Send an email to TheCentre@torontohousing.ca to connect with a Centre team member.