What went down at the TL Insider Fireside Chat exploring Toronto’s homelessness crisis
During the pandemic, social inequities in Canada have become more apparent than ever before. Vulnerable populations in our cities have borne the brunt of Covid-19 due to gaps in the health care system and public health messaging lost in translation. On February 2, TL Insider welcomed experts from both the private and public sectors for an in-depth discussion on Toronto’s homelessness crisis amidst Covid-19, and the innovations in health care that are improving access for Toronto’s at-risk communities.
On our panel was Nimmi Kanji, director of community investment at TELUS; Dr. Andrew Boozary, primary-care physician and executive director, population health and social medicine at University Health Network (UHN); Raymond Macaraeg, primary health care nurse practitioner for Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre; and Angela Robertson, executive director of Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre. Moderated by Jason Maghanoy, head of business development at St. Joseph Media, the starting point of this event addressed the details of Toronto’s homelessness crisis and some of the ways it continues to worsen amidst the pandemic.
“For many, it may not have been clear just how major of a public health crisis homelessness was,” says Dr. Boozary. With regards to the effectiveness of safety measures for people experiencing homelessness, that “public health messaging for so many people cannot be implemented—it all stems from our fundamental failure on housing, pre-pandemic.”
There’s a clear need for the integration of health and social services to meet the unique challenges facing Toronto’s homeless population. Our panelists explored how the private sector is playing a role in meeting this challenge. From Dr. Boozary’s point-of-view, “the private sector cannot dismiss this issue [homelessness] any longer. If it makes people uncomfortable that there have been tents popping up all around the country, then I hope this is a prompt for people not to tear down tents and tent encampments but to build up more support.”
An example of efforts in the private sector is TELUS Health For Good—a mobile health care initiative working to reach communities in need. Since 2014, TELUS Health for Good has been helping to remove many of the barriers Canadians living on the streets face in receiving medical care and reconnecting thousands of patients to the public healthcare system. Now backed by a 5-year $10 million commitment from TELUS, Health for Good is already active from coast-to-coast with mobile health clinics operating in Victoria, Vancouver, Surrey, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Mississauga-Peel Region, Waterloo Region, Montreal, Halifax, and now Toronto. These state-of-the-art mobile health clinics operate in communities where frontline, primary care – including COVID-19 testing – is urgently needed and act as a vital link between the community and local health authority. Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre executive director Angela Robertson says that this initiative “enables the ability to twin primary health care and harm reduction services to a community that are often marginalized from accessing primary health care because of their substance abuse.” This community-owned project is an example of what Nimmi Kanji considers TELUS’s commitment to “using technology to drive better human outcomes.”
Prior to the virtual Q&A, our panelists discussed the future of Canada’s public health care system, defining the private sector’s call to action, as well as outlining what they’re most hopeful for in 2021.