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ROAD HOME: Housing and good health intrinsically linked

March 31, 2024

Posted on: March 31st, 2024. By: Michael Braithwaite,, Original Article.

‘Aside from the health benefits for our most vulnerable, there is also a huge economic argument for access to good health care,’ says Blue Door CEO in his monthly column.

Housing and health go hand in hand.

For the more than 250,000 Canadians experiencing homelessness each year, including residents without a safe place to call home, their ongoing health is of grave concern.

According to Charity Intelligence Canada, the life span of somebody experiencing homelessness is roughly half of that of someone who is housed.

Years spent living on the streets result in precarious health, fuelled by restless nights without proper nutrition and nowhere to properly rest and recover. Surviving the elements year after year chips away at and takes a toll on a person’s physical and mental health.

When health issues can no longer be ignored, imagine yourself in the shoes of someone experiencing homelessness trying to access health care without proper ID, access to transportation, a family doctor or support to navigate the health-care system.

For too many, this is a reality.

Despite our envied health-care system in Canada, some Canadians do not have equal access to health care.

I recall hearing Dr. Sandy Buchman, former head of the Canadian Medical Association, speak at the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness Conference in 2019 about the ability to tell the health of someone from just their postal code. What Buchman meant, of course, is families and individuals living in lower-income neighbourhoods face many inequalities that can lead to poorer health, including not having equal access to health-care resources.

The importance of access to health care was spotlighted during the pandemic, when York Region and Blue Door partnered to create and operate a COVID-19 isolation site for people experiencing homelessness in York Region. Health care was provided directly at the isolation site by nurses and York Region community paramedics with positive health outcomes through triaging of medical care and access to emergency housing.

Observing this, Blue Door began to question what the outcomes would be if all individuals receiving our housing programs had access to immediate health care.

In 2022, we then looked to our partner, TD Bank Group, which stepped up to provide generous funding for a part-time nurse, hired through our partners from the Canadian Mental Health Association York Region and South Simcoe, to support families and men experiencing homelessness on site at Leeder Place, Porter Place and Passage House.

At the same time, through an innovative partnership with Southlake Regional Health Centre, an in-reach worker, also funded by TD, works in the hospital to help people who are without housing and are being discharged from the hospital. This effort ensures people are not discharged into homelessness but instead are linked to life-saving community services and have a safe home where they can recover.

We are also fortunate to have biweekly support from Dr. Melanie Henry as well as York Region’s Community Paramedicine and Outreach Response Team to offer life-changing support to individuals at our housing programs.

With all these health supports in place, the results from our health-care team working with people experiencing homelessness have been outstanding.

In a matter of six months, when the Health Hub supports were implemented in the second half of 2022, Blue Door recorded calls to EMS (911) for on-site visits to Porter Place, men’s emergency housing, reduced by more than half. Also, more than 70 per cent of individuals self-reported leaving Blue Door healthier than when they came in.

Aside from the health benefits for our most vulnerable, there is also a huge economic argument for access to good health care.

The costs saved by cutting these calls in half more than justify the cost of adding health care to the list of supports Blue Door offers to people experiencing

Today, with the support of York Region, Blue Door is highly focused on working with our health-care partners to continue to grow the services available to people experiencing homelessness.

Health is a key pillar in our 2023-25 strategic plan, because in order to have good health, you need housing, and in order to maintain your housing, you need good health.

View the video here:

Michael Braithwaite is the CEO of Blue Door, host of the housing and homelessness podcast On the Way Home, board chair of the youth homelessness-focused organization A Way Home Canada, and a tireless advocate for people experiencing homelessness.