The Vision

How can we make it easier for those experiencing homelessness in Waterloo Region to access healthcare?

People who are homeless face many barriers to getting the mental, physical and addiction health care they need. Many don’t have primary care physicians or feel comfortable in medical settings.

This is an issue that has already been noticed by many health and social support agencies in Waterloo Region, who are finding creative ways to provide health care in places where people feel safe and welcomed.

But we know it’s still not enough.

It’s time to bring care right to where people are, 24 hours a day. It’s time to integrate health care with shelter.

That’s the vision for ShelterCare: bringing health care and shelter together for those in our community who need both.

Through this approach, men and women who are struggling can receive health care from professionals who know their names, their journeys, and their potential. They can become healthy, find permanent housing, and end the cycle of homelessness.

“Have a nurse on site all the time, have a doctor come in once a week… [that] might help people.”

31-year old male participant at shelter, 2018.

What Inspires Us

ShelterCare, an expanded approach to health care and shelter is based on an innovative system-wide approach already implemented in Ottawa with impressive results. For every dollar spent on providing health care in shelter and supportive housing, two dollars are saved in paramedic and police services and emergency department visits.

Bringing ShelterCare to Waterloo Region will increase the health and life expectancy for those living in vulnerable conditions while reducing pressure on hospitals and emergency services.

“Recently, a gentleman who was homeless needed to have major heart surgery. He was discharged from hospital when he was stable, as any of us would be, however the only home he had to go to in order to continue his recovery was our Charles Street Men’s Shelter.  Staff did the best we could to make him feel comfortable, but our shelter building is not well equipped for this type of need.”

Shelter worker

Why This Matters

  1. People who are homeless have difficulty accessing health care.
    Those experiencing homelessness require health care, but do not always feel safe or welcomed in traditional medical settings. There is limited integration between shelters and hospitals, so some people can fall through the cracks.
  2. Use of Emergency Services is high.
    Many people experiencing homelessness do not have a primary care physician so they visit Emergency instead. Having more community-based health care will help reduce pressure on hospitals and first responders.
  3. Opioid public health crisis.
    The use of highly addictive, lethal opioids is now considered a public health crisis. Increased use of crystal meth has created a greater need for help for those struggling with addiction. 
  4. Emergency shelters are overflowing.
    Waterloo Region’s shelters are full every night. Current facilities are not equipped to meet the intense needs of today’s homeless population.
  5. Limited affordable housing
    Waterloo Region continues to lack affordable and supportive housing. The waiting list for community housing is over 7 years long and the waiting list for supportive housing is 2.5 years.
  6. Safety and belonging
    People feel increasingly isolated in our community. Providing appropriate health and social care will help more people in Waterloo Region feel like they are safe and they belong.

“ [If I could make a change in the healthcare system, it would be that we] need increased comfort with doctors so that you are able to open up. If it is just an open/closed book, people and things are missed. Need trust, need that person to talk to.” 

58-year old male participant at shelter, 2018.

Imagine a better way.

Our community has a vision to integrate shelter and health care. You can help to make this vision a reality.

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