The Health Outreach Mobile Engagement (HOME) Program is back on the streets of London, Ont., and officials say there is hope that an upcoming city-wide plan to combat homelessness will provide sustainable funding.
The program looks to provide health services directly to clients by meeting them where they are, be it shelters, encampments, housing or other community settings.
The HOME Program is a partnership between Canadian Mental Health Association Thames Valley Addiction and Mental Health Services (CMHA TVAMHS), London Cares, London InterCommunity Health Centre (LIHC), Middlesex-London Paramedic Service (MLPS) and Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC).
Along with resources from the aforementioned partners, the program also receives funding from Health Canada and Ontario Health.
Since its launch in January 2021, the program has lent help to people on more than 5,600 occasions at nine different sites in London’s downtown core.
An evaluation of its first year in operation, which ran from Jan. 11, 2021 to Jan. 10, 2022, found that 1,059 unique clients accessed medical and wraparound care services through the HOME Program.
A client survey in the evaluation found that 100 per cent of respondents find it easier to access care because of the HOME Program, with 92 per cent saying they would recommend it to others.
The results for a survey of program partners found that 95 per cent of respondents “reported the coordination of services for highly marginalized individuals in London has improved,” while 88 per cent “feel better able to support highly marginalized individuals in London.”
Greg Nash, the director of complex urban health for LIHC, says the amount of people the program has already served shows the need is clear.
“This is a response that community organizations said needs to happen, just to provide basic human dignity,” Nash said.
The program officially returned to London on Tuesday, but had relaunched quietly at the end of November in an effort to test the changes being brought on for the newest edition of HOME, Nash said.
This includes a brand new 27-foot bus acquired last year.
“We were able to gut the inside of it and purpose-build to meet the needs, so it has a lovely little entrance space — reception and consultation area at the front — triage space and then an exam room at the back,” Nash added.
While there are a few new additions, Nash says it’s basically the same program that community partners and clients have familiarized themselves with. This includes having the program’s bus deliver services directly to clients two days a week, with an SUV being deployed three days a week to assist HOME staff in providing care.
“We’re doing primary care, acute medical care — triage level four and five, so wound care, frostbite, a whole host of respiratory symptoms — as well as harm reduction, social services, basic needs like food and water,” Nash said.
Sleeping bags, tarps and tents are also available for clients accessing the program.
Despite its success, Nash says the program is in dire need of sustainable funding.
Part of the HOME Program’s current funding will run out at the end of March, leaving certain partners unable to stay on board, with the entirety of its funding set to end by March 31, 2024.
There is hope, however, in the upcoming plan from the Health and Homelessness Summit, a massive group led by city hall that’s focused on combatting local homelessness.
During his State of the City Address, Mayor Josh Morgan teased an upcoming plan from the summit that would create a “permanent and sustainable system” to help those experiencing homelessness.
Nash says there have been “strong indications” that the summit plans on providing sustainable funding to the HOME Program.
“We’re very confident because of the strong evaluation, the strong buy-in by community partners and the strong buy-in by allies who also provide these sort of services,” Nash added.
The summit’s upcoming plan will be presented to city councillors on Feb. 28, giving the group of municipal politicians, as well as the public, their first glimpse of what’s to come.
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