Health Care Pilot Underway in Shelter

When you don’t have a permanent place to call home, it’s hard to get to the doctor for regular checkups.

For men staying at the Charles Street Men’s Shelter, however, this has become easier since the beginning of the year thanks to a pilot project underway to bring primary care to shelter.

Nurse practitioner Stacey Bricknell and outreach worker Chris Morton are two members of the Interdisciplinary Primary Care team from Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre. Stacey and Chris visit the shelter two evenings per week to provide health care clinics and one-on-one support.

“We’re providing primary health care in a flexible, mobile way,” said Chris.

This is all part of the vision of the Inner City Health Alliance. The goal is to provide health care to Waterloo Region’s most vulnerable residents in places where they feel welcomed. The pilot project is an important step towards providing an improved health care experience as part of the local Emergency Shelter system.

When we come here, we trust you guys — you know us, you know what we go through every day — and some of you even talk to us about being dope-sick. You know we aren’t going to be able to handle eight hours of waiting… But here, if a doctor or a nurse is available, we can literally catch them when we see them.

Shelter participant

Many of the men who first visit the clinic come with problems that have become too bad to ignore – an injured hand, for instance, or an infected wound.

Stacey assesses the wound while talking to the patient, gradually learning more about potential health challenges, walking with the shelter participant to help improve health.

Chris builds relationships, both at the clinic and in the community, helping to create a sense of connection with residents who find it hard to trust others.

One of the main goals of the clinic – and the Alliance – is to build relationships so that those experiencing homelessness can start addressing more serious and chronic issues – whether that is a heart condition, addiction, diabetes, or mental health concerns.

Bringing ShelterCare to reality will include expanding on this project to provide health care capacity for the shelter on a 24/7 basis, decreasing the number of times that emergency services and hospital need to respond to non-acute needs.

“Everyone deserves good health care,” said Chris. “It feels good to be able to be part of the solution.”