TORONTO- A small park lies in the shadows at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto.
“If you’re homeless they don’t want to deal with you. They just don’t seem to care,” said Mark as he motions with his hand towards the inner-city hospital steps away from where he stands in the middle of the park.
Mark is homeless, has been for several years. So are many of the other men lingering in the shade around him. He says all of them have been judged at some point by a doctor or nurse.
“You can’t smell like alcohol, you can’t be high, you can’t look homeless. If you look homeless you’re treated as homeless,” he said.
There is a high level of perceived discrimination among homeless adults when it comes to healthcare.
“Some told us they didn’t want to smile in front of a doctor because missing teeth is seen has not having money,” said Vicky Stergiopoulous, contributor to a study on homeless perception of healthcare. “Another said when they got a newer jacket they were treated nicer.”
Stergiopoulos is one of the authors of a study for St. Michael’s Hospital Centre for Inner City Health and the Li Ka-Shing Knowledge Institute which surveyed more than 500 individuals who spent time living on streets.
30.4 per cent of respondents perceived discrimination related to homelessness or poverty.
32.5 per cent felt discriminated against based on mental illness, alcohol or substance abuse, while 15 per cent of all participants said they felt discriminated against based on race, ethnicity or skin colour.
“We were surprised by the high level of perceived discrimination,” said Stergiopoulos “It’s the first step towards us trying to understand how we can improve that experience.”
Mark isn’t sure what can be done to change how he feels about how doctors and nurses look at him but he says he’s sure something can be done.