Many homeless and vulnerably housed folks do not have a GP, and instead bounce between walk in clinics and the emergency departments of various hospitals instead. This is particularly worrying for this population, who are vulnerable to a cornucopia of health problems due to a variety of factors. Unfortunately, empathy for people struggling with mental health problems and addictions is not built into our health care system.
Tonight, an elderly Indigenous resident in one of my buildings was suffering from a painful hernia, he could not stand up straight or walk on his own. Despite this, he refused to the go to the hospital without first doing laundry, taking a shower and combing his hair. A young Indigenous woman reports a similar narrative to the researchers and authors of In Plain Sight, stating “I am afraid to go to any hospital. When I do have to, I dress up like I’m going to church [in order to receive proper treatment]. It’s ridiculous.” To your or I, this seems absurd. When someone is in a crisis of health, they should go to the hospital to receive emergency care.
However, that’s not how the hospital works for everyone. The experiences of Indigenous folks in the healthcare system is a whole post by itself – a whole blog by itself in fact. The colonial healthcare system has a long history of dismissing, disrespecting and abusing Indigenous Peoples, performing medical experiments on them without their consent and denying them proper standard care. Homeless folks and people who use drugs also regularly experience disrespect, neglect, and mistreatment at the hands of jaded and cynical healthcare workers in the emergency department. Their symptoms are regularly dismissed as psychosis or drug-induced, their mental health crises left untreated due to concurrent substance use, and they are often denied medication (particularly pain medication) due to perceptions that they are lying about their symptoms to obtain drugs. As you can imagine, being at the intersection of Indigeneity and involvement in the drug- and street-involved community often makes for incredibly traumatizing encounters with the healthcare system.
The resident I mentioned above finally made it to the hospital around 3:00am after a painstaking 6 hours of laundering his clothes and showering while in unbearable pain. By 5:00am, he had returned from the hospital – discharged almost immediately, in the same condition as he had left in.