The Peterborough Examiner
Health and healing can only start with a home
Peterborough Public Health applauds city staff and city council for their support at general committee this past week of a plan that will bring positive action on homelessness and improve health in our community.
There are few things more central to our health than a home. When we have one, we are sheltered from the elements, shielded from illness and disease, and protected from a range of health conditions that can have very little to do with our biology or genes. When we don’t, nothing else matters.
I have had several opportunities in my role as the medical officer of health, and as a doctor, to speak directly with and listen to people living outside and unsheltered in our community. I have listened to their health concerns. I have met individuals managing insulin for their diabetes, caring for complex wounds, or trying to make progress on a substance use disorder while living in a tent. Quite simply, it’s an impossible task. How can someone address these health challenges, which are difficult for anyone, while also trying to battle the elements on a bench or in a tent?
The highly visible and mounting challenge of homelessness that we are seeing in our community is not unique to Peterborough.
Across the province and throughout the country, communities are grappling with how to support the increasing number of people who need help due to rising inequality.
It is clear from city staff’s report that the current system for homelessness is not meeting the needs of those who are sleeping outside. Inadequate space in the shelter system and the lack of truly affordable housing for individuals on limited income, combined with other barriers such as substance use and stigma, are making the work of health and healing worse. This impacts our health system and impacts us all. It is time for a change.
The recent staff report to Peterborough city council to establish modular housing at Wolfe Street is an acknowledgment that change is needed. It presents a thoughtful, innovative and immediate response to the crisis of homelessness in our community. If passed, it will enable partners across the health and social system to work together to address the crisis head on.
These are tough decisions for leaders in our community to make, as we grapple with this increasing challenge. I commend city staff and council for leading with heart, and with a recognition that healing starts with a home.