The right services at the right time: Community groups in Thunder Bay partner on 'situation table'

More than 30 community organizations in Thunder Bay, Ont., announced Tuesday they've come together to form the Thunder Bay Situation Table to give immediate help to vulnerable people at imminent risk.

Education official says new group offers 'new ways that we can work together' to help at-risk individuals

The newly established Thunder Bay Situation Table is made up of 30 community organizations in the northwestern Ontario city. Representing three organizations are Jeff Upton, education officer with Lakehead Public Schools (left), Mariah Maddock, Thunder Bay branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association and chair of the situation table (centre) and Don Lewis, acting deputy Thunder Bay police chief (right). (Cathy Alex/CBC )
More than 30 community groups, including police, are partnering to get vulnerable people the help they need as soon as possible. We hear why the Lakehead Public School is so excited to have a seat at the table. 5:54

More than 30 community organizations in Thunder Bay, Ont., announced Tuesday they've come together to form a "situation table" to help vulnerable people before they break the law, become victims of crime or hurt themselves or someone else.

The new partnership strives to help people who are dealing with multiple problems and could be in danger of imminent harm, by "giving access to the right services at the right time," said Mariah Maddock of the city's branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the chair of the new group.

"Change the trajectory of a student who might be on a pathway towards dealing with crime,- Jeff Upton, Lakehead Public Schools

The person's case is presented to the group, which then assigns the most appropriate agency to start caring for the person, as soon as possible.

An individual at risk may have a complex set of needs involving everything from housing to addiction to truancy and "they're occurring at the same time, so it's really looking at what their needs are and then mobilizing resources to their needs, so they're not getting put on a wait list, they're getting access to the services they need at the same time," explained Maddock.

Helping troubled students succeed

Groups collaborating around the table include police, social service agencies, sexual abuse and mental health counsellors, the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, legal aid and both the Catholic and public school boards.

For example, if a school has exhausted all available options to help a student who might be dealing with homelessness, violence and depression, the case would be referred to the situation table, said Jeff Upton, the education officer for Lakehead Public Schools.

The hope would be that the group could find "new ideas and new ways that we can work together that we haven't thought about to support the student so that they can come back to a school ... and be successful," he said.

Finding the right agencies and the right supports has the potential to "change the trajectory of a student who might be on a pathway towards dealing with crime, dealing with violence, dealing with poverty and it can change their lives in such a positive direction," said Upton.

'Closing the gaps' in care

Thunder Bay police are also highly supportive of the new organization, in part because officers frequently encounter the people who would benefit most fromhelp, said Don Lewis, the acting deputy chief.

Lewis said most people have heard of someone who "didn't receive the care they needed and slipped through the cracks and that's the biggest objective of the situation table and the partners involved is to close those gaps and to get the vulnerable person the intervention they need in the fastest time possible."

Since the initiative was established in September, it has dealt with eight referrals and helped at least 15 people because the action plan for the person in crisis can include extending services to their family.