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St. Michael’s lives up to “urban angel” name

Toronto, June 7, 2013

By Emily Holton

Homeless individuals at St. Michael's between 6 p.m. and midnight, April 17, 2013. 44 people: 40 men, 4 women. Inpatients: under 25 years, 2; Age 26 - 49, 9; 50 + years, 17; Emergency department patients, 26 - 49 years, 6; Detox patients, 26 - 49 years, 10.

On the night of April 17, hundreds of volunteers hit the chilly streets to survey and count people who are homeless in Toronto.

A multidisciplinary team of St. Michael’s staff volunteered to survey our patients as well, and found that more than 40 of Toronto’s homeless people were at St. Michael’s that night, including two newly born babies.

“As good as we are at living up to our name as Toronto’s ‘urban angel,’ data like this is always helpful to remind us of the challenges many of our patients are living with,” said Dr. Doug Sinclair, executive vice-president and chief medical officer. “Just imagine the obstacles that a homeless person faces the moment they’re discharged from the hospital. Without a home to recover in, it’s almost impossible to manage medications, rest, organize regular meals or stay warm and dry.”

The numbers are no surprise: homelessness puts people at a high risk of serious health problems, and St. Michael’s is known as a compassionate place where everyone is welcome.

However it’s important to note that the people counted in this survey were “absolutely homeless,” meaning that they had no fixed address or were staying on the streets or in public spaces, shelters and health and treatment facilities. If this survey had also counted the number of patients who are “vulnerably housed” – paying more than half of their monthly income for rent, living with substantial risk of becoming homeless and facing many of the same health risks as people who live on the streets – these numbers would be much greater.

The 2013 City of Toronto Street Needs Assessment was the third in Toronto’s history. Results will show the city how many people are absolutely homeless and need better access to permanent housing on any given night. It will also reveal whether these numbers are growing or shrinking. The full 2013 Street Needs Assessment report will be released in the fall.