Guideline released for helping Canada’s homeless population through healthcare

Tents along Leon Avenue in downtown Kelowna. According to a head count, there are between 60 and 80 people sleeping on downtown streets every night. Global News

A new evidence-based clinical guideline has been released to help connect Canada’s homeless population with necessary services.

The Homeless Health Research Network and a team of experts and researchers, including Dr. Anne Andermann from McGill University, are behind the guideline.

Andermann said the guideline is geared towards front-line physicians. She said there’s evidence these healthcare specialists can work collaboratively to create better access to services, which she says is imperative for helping homeless populations.

“Family doctors can do a lot more to work together with patients, and with other people who are working in communities to provide support for things such as shelters, food banks or other community organizations,” Andermann said during an interview Tuesday on 770 CHQR

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“This can help the patient be able to link in with the different supports that are available and relevant for their situation.”

LISTEN: New guidelines released on helping care for those living on the street from a healthcare perspective

The new guideline suggests five intervention services front-line physicians can look to when dealing with homeless or vulnerable populations.

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  1. Permanent supportive housing: connect homeless or vulnerably housed people to a local housing coordinator or case manager to provide links to housing options.
  2. Income assistance: help people with income insecurity to find and access income-support resources.
  3. Case management: ensure people with mental health and substance-use disorders access local mental health programs and psychiatric services.
  4. Opioid agonist therapy: provide access to opioid agonist therapy in primary care or referral to an addiction specialist for patients with chronic opioid use.
  5. Harm reduction: identify appropriate management for people with substance use issues, or refer them to local addiction and harm-reduction services.
Click to play video: 'Calgarian, senior, homeless: the alarming trend in our own backyard'
Calgarian, senior, homeless: the alarming trend in our own backyard

Andermann said Canada is dealing with many “hidden homeless” cases, which front-line health workers may be able to more easily identify and help with.

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“According to the census data, about two million Canadians have experienced hidden homelessness in their lifetimes. Many of these people are going to see family doctors or presenting in clinics and going to emergency and so forth.

“So family doctors and others on the front lines need to start to ask people not just about their physical health and their mental health situation, but also about their social situation.”

The guideline was released on Monday and will be updated every five years. It was funded by Inner City Health Associates, the Canadian Medical Association and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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