Niagara Mental Health Summit hunts for solutions through lived experience 
Ed Smith/The Pointer

Niagara Mental Health Summit hunts for solutions through lived experience 

Residents of the Niagara Region gathered at the Welland Community Centre recently to talk about a group of crises engulfing the province. The Mental Health Summit brought together a number of speakers to address the killer trifecta of poverty, mental health, and addiction. 

The first such Niagara Summit was held in 2019 and has taken place in three of the last five years with two years being lost to the pandemic. Attendance and awareness has grown steadily and this year’s three-hour event was attended by 110 people. The event was moderated by Renee Delaney of Small Scale Farms, a social enterprise group that has made it part of its mission to work for a better community for all Niagara residents. 

Steven Soos, event founder and organizer, says the goal is to provide space for “everyday people to tell their story, maybe for the first time, and to keep the dialogue going.”


Attendees at the fifth Niagara Mental Health Summit held last month.

(Ed Smith/The Pointer)


Soos describes himself as someone who has lived experience with all of these issues and does not shy away from talking about his ongoing struggle with mental health and addiction. He knows what it's like to be treated differently and knows the value of having a welcoming and supportive system. 

The statistics are frightening. The Canadian Mental Health Association states that 1 in 5 people in Niagara will experience a mental health concern in their lifetime, while Niagara Public Health reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29 year olds in the region.  

The picture gets darker the more one studies the data:

  • In 2023 there were 734 suspected opioid overdoses responded to by Emergency Medical Services, and on average 10 deaths per month
  • Wait times for affordable, one bedroom housing throughout the Region ranges from 9 to 21 years, depending on the city
  • Wait times for affordable, family-size housing (2-3 bedrooms) ranges from 4 to 15 years, depending on the city
  • 18,000 children and youth have a mental disorder in Niagara
  • 11-years-old is the average age of youth seeking mental health help in Niagara

At times, it can be difficult to see the connections between these issues. What does opioid abuse have to do with housing availability?  What does mental disorder have to do with housing or illicit drugs?  

Soos uses his life experience to draw it all together.  Suffering severe trauma as a child led him to addiction issues and self-medicating through illicit drugs. These  addiction issues led to poverty and an inability to afford shelter. A lack of shelter led to wandering the streets and being unable to take advantage of interventions that might be available. With a system that suffers funding gaps so wide, it's easy for people like Soos to fall through them. 

Delaney is a leader and pioneer in private social enterprise in Niagara and is out-spoken about what drives her. 

“(I have) made it my mission to care about what’s happening in my community, and currently my community is falling apart,” she said. 


Renee Delaney speaks during the Mental Health Summit.

(Small Scale Farms/Facebook)


Delaney’s Small Scale Farms exists to ensure healthy food is accessible and affordable to all economic levels of Niagara’s population.  For every customer who subscribes to weekly food deliveries, her organization donates a bag of produce to a local community group or food bank. 

Delaney believes that “unless we address our societal problems openly and willingly we won’t be able to fix it. We have to act now to create the kind of community we want to live in.”  For her, participating in the Mental Health Summit was just one more thing she could do for the community.

The Mental Health Summit does not present itself as the solution, but a step in the right direction. 

“We need this type of event, recovery always begins with conversation and we are having some of that conversation through a supportive community forum,”  Soos said.

And so, at the Mental Health Summit, people talked.  No judgements, no confrontation. People talked and others listened. Some had questions to ask, others had stories to tell.

This year’s guest panelists included school board trustees Nancy Beamer and Paul Turner; city councillors Wayne Olsen and John Chiocchio; religious leader Stephen Lasalle; personal support worker Cheryl Rowe; and  mental health advocate Nikki Gaboury. The diverse panel offered a wide-range of opinions and experiences on the topic. 

Summit attendees and panelists raised a number of issues facing Niagara’s existing mental health and addictions infrastructure, including a lack of government funding; a lack of support workers; a lack of knowledge in the school system to deal with these issues; and the need for more care and services for the unhoused. Attendees also provided a human face to the disturbing statistics and figures that typically define these crises, sharing harrowing stories of life on the street, including what it's like to sleep under a bridge. For those who did not wish to speak, a suggestion box was provided, allowing for communication according to individual comfort levels.  


Steven Soos, Mental Health Summit founder and organizer.

(Small Scale Farms/Facebook)


Soos has made himself a tireless advocate for the causes of mental health, addiction and poverty.  He’s a known presence in the various council chambers throughout Niagara. Ask him and he can tell you that 10 of the 13 municipal governments in Niagara have declared an emergency on these issues in one form or another. He can also name the three that have yet to take action, Pelham, Niagara-on-the Lake and West Lincoln, but he’s hopeful that will change soon. He has dialogue scheduled with all of them. According to Soos, the issues of mental health, poverty and addiction are evolving and it is our responsibility as a community and society to evolve with them.



Email: [email protected] 

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