Edmonton

Health clinic brings hope to homeless in west Edmonton

A drop-in centre that helps the homeless on the streets of west Edmonton is running a medical clinic bringing specialized care through the winter.

Extended winter hours at drop-in gives people access to health care

Dr. Muninder Lotay explains the healthcare options open to the homeless community at the Jasper Place Wellness Centre. 0:57

A drop-in centre that helps the homeless on the streets of west Edmonton is running a medical clinic that will provide  specialized care through the winter.

The Jasper Place Wellness Centre, 15626 100A Ave., is extending its hours on two nights a week to try to give people the care they need in colder weather.

Many of the patients don't travel downtown where more services are available so the centre wanted to ensure it could offer the service. The extra hours mean the centre will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.

"Just to make sure we can connect with those rough sleepers and provide primary health care to them," said executive director Murray Soroka. "We need to be able to access those services in the winter for people."

Jasper Place Wellness Centre executive director Murray Soroka says the health clinic has extended its hours to run two evenings a week, in part because of issues relating to cold weather. (Sam Martin/CBC)

The centre, which began in 2006 as a drop-in, decided to run a health clinic after realizing so many people using the centre were struggling with multiple health issues.

"We were looking at a lot of people that were experiencing homelessness and those individuals usually have concurrent disorders and complexities that are difficult for them to manage," said Henry Motta, the centre's health clinic director.

After two years as a pilot project, it has transformed into a full clinic, offering care to many people who previously did not even see a family doctor.

"It's amazing. We often find patients who haven't seen a primary family care provider in two or three decades and so the default care provider has been the ER," said Dr. Muninder Lotay, one of the doctors at the centre.

Dr. Lotay says the clinic also helps connect patients to other programs at the centre, including housing and job training. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Lotay said health-care needs are not often a priority for the homeless, who are usually more concerned with where they will sleep at night or how they will get their next meal.

"I do often see chronic diseases," Lotay said. "Undiagnosed hypertension, diabetes, lung disease, mental health or  blood-borne viruses like hepatitis."

The clinic, which already has 60 patients, also helps connect people to other services offered at the wellness centre, such as housing and job training.

"We run, I think, 13 programs right now and that will help them adapt to the circumstances and be more productive in what they're doing in the community," Motta said.

Clinic director Henry Motta said the clinic already has 60 patients, who have made 200 visits to the clinic between them. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Because the drop-in centre offers morning and evening hours, Lotay said cold-related health issues have been minimal so far, although he has treated a couple of people for frostbite.

He constantly reminds patients to layer up and take advantage of any donated winter clothes they can find.

CBC Edmonton is running a winter clothing drive this week to try to help the homeless keep warm this winter.

We're accepting donations of new socks, gloves and hats at our studios inside Edmonton City Centre mall until Friday.

Lotay said the donations make a big difference for people living outside, warming both their bodies and their spirits.

"People feel cared for," he said. "You can see that helps them feel they're very much part of the community."