Newsletter No. 23 May 2006
I've been a street nurse in Toronto for 17 years. In the spring of 2004 I received the Atkinson Economic Justice Award which permits me to pursue, for up to three years, my passions for nursing and working on homelessness and housing issues. In this newsletter I hope to report on my activities, create a link to a broader group of individuals who care about these social issues and encourage critical debate.
Further information about subscribing to the newsletter is found below. I want to hear from you - about the newsletter, about things that are happening in the homelessness sector (what a sad term!), and about good things which will provide inspiration for all of us.
Nurses Week. Celebrating the Street Nurse?
month Street Nurses are being ‘celebrated’ in print and television
advertisements, as illustrated here. The
ads are sponsored by several nursing organizations in
is a letter I sent to the Ontario Premier:
Thanks for highlighting the importance of the work of
a Street Nurse in the Government of
The ad says “today’s nurses are highly qualified, doing far more than
you think.” No kidding!
The ad depicts a nurse bandaging a man’s leg while he sits on the
you tell me why your recent provincial budget had no new dollars for
housing? Can you tell me why
your government only announced a 2 per cent increase in social assistance
rates which will only mean more economic evictions, more trouble finding
housing and certainly a need for more Street Nurses?
Most Street Nurses I know are proud of the work they
do but find the necessity for it shameful, especially in a rich province
Cathy Crowe, Street Nurse
continuing and growing need for Street Nurses seems to me like a continuing
and growing violation of human rights. Abundant
research has proven that the real determinants of health are safe affordable
housing, food, an adequate income, jobs, childcare, and social inclusion.
the motto for Nursing Week this year is Promoting
Healthy Choices for Healthy Living. This echoes back to the days of the 1974
Lalonde Report. It’s a slogan that suggests the primary role for nursing
is to assist Canadians to make some simple and logical choices – and then
we will achieve ‘healthy living.’ Choices?
I have yet to meet a homeless person who chooses homelessness.
The best testament to that – the former
very first Canadian school of nursing opened in 1874.
“Nurses have been activists since medieval times, when members of religious orders and secular nursing orders looked after lepers, orphaned children, and poor men and woman whose families couldn’t or wouldn’t care for them. Nurse activists of previous centuries, including Florence Nightingale, Dorothea Dix, and Margaret Sanger, pushed for and achieved tremendous health care improvements in their lifetimes.”
levels of government today are desperately in need
of a reality check.
Journalist Michael Valpy has remarked, “Nurses have the highest
believability quotient of all health care professionals”.
So here’s some real truth – as Street Nurses see it.
in 2002, film maker Shelley Saywell filmed a Street Nurses Network meeting
“We’re sending 2-3 people a night for mantoux (tuberculosis) testing. We had somebody the other night coughing up blood - like classic markers of TB and people are sleeping with no air on church basements and it’s nuts, and for the first time in almost 30 years of doing different kinds of street work I’m really scared now. It’s getting scary.” Cathy Newman, St. Elizabeth ‘home’ visiting nurse
“I’m really, really angry and I’m really scared. I just think, you know, someone said this is a micro epidemic - this is a friggin’ emergency. We’re not talking about maybe there’s going to be a TB outbreak. This is life and death.” Barb Craig, Street Health
“My workday feels out of control that’s for sure. It’s longer and longer and it just doesn’t feel sustainable. People are so sick.” Kathy Hardill, Regent Park CHC
Today in 2006, the frustration of
Street Nurse Kathy Hardill seems unbearable. Kathy sent me an email last
month where she described herself as “drowning
in the rolling sea of desperation which is east downtown
I was outraged when I first saw the
Ontario Government use a Street Nurse as a symbol to celebrate nursing, and
with Kathy’s words, I was motivated to invite Street Nurses to comment on
the real state of homelessness in
“I cannot keep up with the demand for food on a daily basis, from an
unprecedented number of hungry people - food banks are empty or closed, soup
kitchens are running out of food - I tell you, I have to steel myself in the
mornings to go into the Friendship Centre because the desperation and
volatility before they serve food is PALPABLE in there.
I am hearing about or assessing a flood of homeless people viciously assaulted by police on a weekly basis.
With the exception of my shelter-based clinic, I have virtually no clients who are "eligible" to stay in shelters, because they are so ill - frankly, if they live long enough to experience a pandemic flu, I will be ecstatic. Where is the fight for emergency rent supplements for ill people, so they can get out of shelters before they get even sicker?
I have been pulling my hair out trying to find somewhere, ANYWHERE, for dying people to safely live out their days
I have people waiting for ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) decisions going on ten months now.
There is absolutely NOWHERE for substance using women to be, even if they are extremely ill; where is the women's annex-type (harm-reduction) program? Where is even the call for a resource like this? Where can crack-using women safely be? The so-called concurrent disordered people? (Better called the ‘why don't you just die already’ people.)
The ‘Streets to Homes’ people are harassing homeless people who cannot tolerate being around people, and forcing them to live in places like Fred Victor, for god's sake, which is shared accommodation. As one of my clients said, "it's because I can't stand being around people that I ended up in the bush in the first place" - maybe he gets counted as a "housed" statistic but I can tell you it's going to last a nano second and then where is he? People who got housed by the City with the special diet money are now losing that money and will be losing their housing. Are they going to get counted when they end up homeless again, or will their "success stories" be the end of it? We are out here picking up the pieces while politicians and bureaucrats congratulate themselves.”
Egger, Regent Park CHC,
November of 2005, the provincial government in
The province needs to
increase the rates by 40%, or reinstate the previous Special Diet
Supplement. People are going hungry, going without, using food banks more,
back to no milk for the kids by the last week(s) of the month, and very
afraid of not being able to pay bills and rent in some cases. “
Taylor writes from
situation here in
frustrations of the day are the frail elderly, those with acquired brain
injury, and dementia. These are people with conditions which our
health care system is specifically set up to care for, however, that
only applies if they are not homeless. All of the systems which are in
place to recognize and protect these people who are vulnerable don't apply
in the face of severe and persistent mental illness, addiction or
anti-social behaviours. These people are excluded from services
because of poverty and challenging behaviours. A history of violence
is enough to insure that you will not be accepted into long term care even
if you require that level of nursing care. I fully appreciate that we
cannot put other frail elderly in those facilities at risk to
accommodate one individual but our obligation to them as a society still
exists and we do not have alternatives.
cannot understand why it is ok to put someone who cannot reliably find the
washroom adrift in a shelter simply because they drink or use drugs. I
would never want to take away someone's right to make choices for themselves
unnecessarily, but the test for competency is so low that it is quite
possible to pass it without having any intact survival skills. Living
in the shelters or on the streets requires survival skills or a better
system of protecting the vulnerable. I understand that these
vulnerable people are part of our homeless community, and it is
our dream to be able to provide the needed services and resources to
them within a setting which understands and accepts their behaviours,
which does not blame them for their illness and allows them to continue to
be part of our community. “
Hogan is a pediatric nurse who is a
nurse-volunteer-interpreter at the
role models like you has raised my awareness of human rights violations and
social issues in my own backyard. I
have begun to more fully comprehend the distinct role that nursing must play
in the political realm advocating for clients and for equity for all
fascination with you and with the plight of the homeless is insatiable.
I have witnessed every imaginable reaction to your work: shock,
grief, awe, bewilderment, naivety, amazement and overwhelming pride.
What of the four year old’s reaction to my invitation to peruse
Cathy Crowe’s packsack. “Is
it a Barbie packsack” she yelled!!
One particularly expressive French Canadian man stood watching while
I spoke with his two sons about the contents of your packsack.
“So what is this packsack?” he asked.
I said “it is the equipment bag of the street nurse from
most discourse about the politics of healthcare has involved the children
and youth who have visited the exhibit.
A nine year-old boy spontaneously decided to feature you at
show-and-tell. Together we
prepared his message related to poverty, the need for a National Housing
Program and our obligation as Canadian citizens to become advocates.
His parents were so enthusiastic and took a digital picture of their
son standing next to the exhibit. He
wanted to share the 1% buttons and this picture with classmates.
These themes of social justice, equity and civic values recurred with
youth who asked that I email you to tell you that they are grateful to you
for doing such hard work! It is
comforting to know that the next generation is savvy about such political
allowed us to plant seeds for reform in our future change-agents.”
2. Ontario budget update
March I entered what is called a ‘budget lock-up’ – it was my first
time. My colleague and I,
outreach worker Bob Rose, received the inch-thick
was a dismal budget for people living in poverty.
Homelessness, hunger, illness and despair will simply worsen.
Ontario MPPs must hear from you.
3. Federal Budget Update
Jim Flaherty budget of May 2 did not cancel these funds.
Our national lobby for these housing dollars was clearly heard.
But is it enough?
budget allocates $1.4 billion for new affordable housing to the provinces
and territories over a three year period. This is added to the $474 million
in federal funding that has been allocated starting in 2001 but remains
unspent. This is one time
funding and not
the beginning of a national housing program that could truly put a dent
in the housing crisis and homelessness. The new money will be divided into
three trust funds to be spent over the next three years:
key work we all must do is to monitor the rollout of these dollars and
ensure that some housing gets built. Housing
that will be truly affordable, open to non-profit delivery mechanisms, and
above all delivered with speed.
colleague Michael Shapcott, in his speedy budget analysis, asked the
following questions within hours of the budget release:
Worrisome is the absence of SCPI (Supporting Community Partnerships Initiatives) in the budget – the money that is the lifeline of so many organizations. So, we have our work cut out for us. I urge nurses to add their voice, experience and efforts to the work of local housing and homeless advocacy groups to help make progress on the fight for a national housing program. Nursing student Sara Cohen points to the words of Florence Nightingale who still challenges us to examine our role:
we are making progress in our nursing every year, every month,
Let’s make some progress and never mind celebrating, let’s work to eliminate the need for Street Nurses.
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