TORONTO — A mobile health unit in Toronto is combining traditional Indigenous treatments and modern medicine to help care for the city’s homeless and most vulnerable people.
Anishnawbe Health Toronto developed its mobile health unit after witnessing a rise in homelessness and overdoses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The nurses, doctors and social workers tour the city’s homeless encampments and other areas to test and treat people in need of medical attention.
“We are providing COVID testing and for people that are homeless, transient and living rough, and also primary health care,” Jane Harrison with the Anishnawbe Health Toronto Mobile Unit told CTV News.
The system allows the health unit to track and care for the people who are experiencing homelessness and may have contracted COVID-19, while also affording them the ability to travel to where they’re needed most.
Now, the mobile health unit typically sees about 100 people per day.
“You can find 50 (to) 60 tents in some of these parks,” said Harvey Manning, director of Programs and Services at Anishnawbe Health Toronto. “What has happened is a lot of drop-in’s have closed. There’s fewer places for people to eat.”
Anishnawbe Health Toronto began in 1984 after its founder, Joe Sylvester, realized a “more comprehensive approach to health care” was needed among the Indigenous community in Toronto.
The health unit promotes traditional forms of Indigenous medicine and practices and offers its patients access to traditional healers, elders and medicine people, along with dentists, chiropractors and massage therapists. The health unit also helps people looking to “escape homelessness.”
“Anishnawbe Health has saved my life,” said Bonnie Gegwetch, a client of the organization.
For Gegwetch, having access to Anishnawbe Health Toronto has helped her to connect with her roots.
“I’m part of the 60s scoop,” she said. “This is my culture, this is where I found it.”
“Anishnawbe health has done an awesome job.”
The health unit is currently fundraising to put all of its services in one new building in downtown Toronto. Construction on the new facility is set to begin later this year.
Wiith files from CTV National News and Indigenous Circle reporter Donna Sound
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