The Shelter Health Network aims to serve people living in Hamilton who have no family doctor, are homeless or precariously housed, and have complex health and social needs.
What is homelessness?
Homelessness can come in many different forms. People living in shelters are homeless as are people who are couch surfing with no address of their own. Some people prefer to avoid the restrictions and crowds of a shelter and opt to sleep outside. Many other people have changed accommodations many times throughout their lives, have episodically stayed in shelters or transitional housing and are just one broken relationship or missed paycheque away from being homeless. These people are precariously housed.
The Shelter Health Network was conceived in an effort to bring health care to these individuals at the places where they are already receiving other types of support (shelters, day centres, addiction facilities, court supports, soup kitchens). In this way, we work closely with case managers, social workers, housing support workers, OW/ODSP workers – all in an effort to provide holistic care to our patients.
Once our patients are stably housed and their lives become less chaotic, we support them in finding a family doctor in the community that can continue with them on their journey.
Voices from Within: A Systematic Description of a Health and Social Services Initiative for Homeless People in Hamilton, Ontario
by Matt Kerslake, Bolade Shipeolu, Jill Wiwcharuk, Dale Guenter
The Shelter Health Network conducted a study in 2017 with the goal of detailing the activities taking place in the SHN. The results were based both on quantitative data from chart reviews as well as qualitative data from interviews with patients, health care providers within the SHN and workers from partner agencies.
In the time period between April 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017, there were 1792 individuals seen at our clinics.
A detailed review of 150 charts showed that 59% of our patients have mental health illnesses and 54% of patients use illicit substances. For a number of logistical reasons, both of these numbers are almost certainly underestimates.
Interviews with health care providers revealed some recurrent themes. Providers felt that an overwhelming majority of our patients suffer from trauma in their past which is often an underlying issue in their concurrent mental health and addiction struggles. We noted that our patients were often discriminated against both within and outside the medical community. For this reason, being vocal advocates for our patients is a huge part of what we do at the Shelter Health Network.
What do our patients say? They feel that they are treated with acceptance, non-judgement, respect, dignity and trust.
The health care providers of the Shelter Health Network are “…very non-judgemental…It’s one of the biggest things, it doesn’t matter to them if the person is stinking of booze or has hygiene issues, they listen and are big on what are you here for, what can we do for you today.”
- Improve health, social stability and quality of life.
- Decrease emergency department visits.
- Provide inter-professional health education learning environment for health and social service professionals.
- Strengthen ‘bridges’ between acute health care, primary health care, social housing programs and social service agencies.
- Always be open to new patients in need of our services by linking more stable clients with community family physicians.