Income has long been an important determinant of health. People with higher incomes live longer and have lower rates of illness and injury. People living in poverty have a lower life expectancy and higher rates of illness.
What does this mean for the almost 5 million Canadians living in poverty? You might be surprised to learn it means a greater risk of homelessness and premature death.
In Ontario, the percentage of impoverished people has increased 26 percent between 2003 and 2016, a rate higher than the national average. Compared to other Canadian cities, Toronto has the highest rate of poverty at 17 percent.
While one’s financial situation affects their health, poor health predisposes individuals and families to homelessness. At the same time, homelessness exposes individuals and families to health problems. It is a vicious cycle.
Homeless men visit emergency rooms
nine times more than
men in the general population.
It was estimated that at least 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a given year, 30 percent of whom suffer from at least two medical conditions. This likelihood doubles in individuals aged 50 and over.
Being homeless makes it difficult to access general health care services. As a result, health care delivery to individuals experiencing homelessness is concentrated in emergency departments in the core of large urban centres, like St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto.
Research headed up by Dr. Stephen Hwang, Director for the Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Mike’s, reports that homeless men, for instance, visit emergency rooms nine times more than men in the general population.
Just blocks from St. Michael’s Hospital is Haven Toronto, a drop-in centre for elder men impacted by poverty and homelessness. To help address the barriers that affect health care for people who are homeless, Haven Toronto recently announced the arrival of the centre’s first full-time, onsite nurse.
Barry Tierney, a registered nurse, joins Haven Toronto from Booth Supportive Services. In addition to several hospital nursing roles, Tierney has extensive experience working as Drug and Addiction Nurse in a methadone treatment program and as a clinical nurse in an Alcohol Response and Engagement Program.
Tierney is one of two new, full-time supports coming to Haven Toronto. A counsellor will be added in the weeks ahead. The additions have been made possible by a grant from the P and L Odette Charitable Foundation.
For several years now, Haven Toronto has provided elder homeless men with onsite housing and crisis counsellors, social workers, part-time nurse practitioners and dental hygienists. The centre, which has been operating since 1933, sees, on average, 400 clients a day.