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Inner-City Health Initiative empowers homeless community

 We often take things for granted, such as taking a shower before going to work, having a safe spot to keep our belongings or having a warm bed to sleep in. These are luxuries our region’s homeless population often lives without. 
This vulnerable population is statistically more likely to suffer from health problems and live with chronic health conditions than most. Health is often not on their priority list as food, clothing and shelter take precedence. Unfortunately minor ailments can become serious or even life threatening when left unaddressed.

The Inner-City Homeless Population’s Health Improvement Project is serving to improve the health of our inner-city homeless population by improving their access to available health care services. 

This Public Health Initiative took a collaborative approach by working with key community stakeholders in addressing the major barriers to equitable access to health care for the local homeless population, such as the lack of an Alberta health care card, suitable primary care options and accessible mental health and addiction services. 

The Initiative led to the many designated services for our community’s homeless population, which were not previously available, including a new health clinic at the Centre of Hope which is staffed with a Nurse Practitioner, a Licensed Practical Nurse, and a mental health nurse. 

“The impact this Initiative has had on our local homeless population has been significant to say the least,” says Leonie McDaniel, Nurse Practitioner for the Centre of Hope Health Clinic. “Most importantly this population now has the opportunity to access health care services in order to maintain an optimum level of health. They know that there is a safe place to obtain services which are provided in a non-judgmental, caring and respectful environment.”

The role of the Nurse Practitioner in the clinic is to perform health visits with the homeless population for acute and chronic conditions. They provide wound care, immunizations, STI/TB services, prescriptions, referrals to treatment centres, specialists and human services to name a few. They also provide street outreach and treatment centre outreach. 

“The goal for the clinic was to provide the local homeless population with appropriate access to client centered health care”, she says. “This has definitely been achieved as we’ve had over 1,000 clinic visits.” 

“One example is that we’ve helped a number of clients with chronic health issues that had been struggling for years, who initially were accessing health services inappropriately. The clinic has been able to offer them treatment and continuity of care thereby decreasing inappropriate use of other health services. In the process, we’re also able to refer them for stable housing, which also has a tremendous impact on their health and how they utilize our health care system” says McDaniel. 

“These individuals now have improved access to appropriate health care. They know it’s a safe place and when in need they return. The amount of times we hear “thank you,” says it all. Our patrons feel very comfortable with us as we have the time to spend time with them, while most health care settings are very fast paced and don’t have time to address the complexity of their issues,” she says.

 “We’re here to care for them in their environment, where they feel comfortable and they don’t feel judged. We really get to know them as individuals and what brought them to where they are now. Things that we learn about them, how they grew up, what their childhoods were like, most of us can never imagine and would never wish upon anyone. Giving them if only a few minutes of time where they truly feel loved and cared for is sometimes all that they need.   
The Initiative also led to the launch of the ‘I am a person first’ awareness campaign, which served to reduce stigma of homelessness, addiction and mental health issues in our community.
The Initiative was funded by the Health Foundation through a $1.2 million gift from the Athabasca Oil Sands Project joint venture owners, Shell Canada, Chevron Canada Limited and Marathon Oil Canada Corporation.

By assisting the homeless, the community moves forward with a preventative and proactive approach in advocating for the homeless population, improving access to health care services, and supporting the health and wellness of our entire community.
 Photo from Homeless Clinic EDIT.jpg


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