Commentary

Don't Close Wesley Day Centre

For people who have gone through their lives falling through the cracks and feeling they are being swept aside, the closure of the Wesley Day Centre sends yet another message that their lives don't matter.

By Jill Wiwcharuk
Published June 17, 2019

It was with shock and dismay that I learned of the planned closure of the Wesley Day Centre last week. As a physician with the Shelter Health Network, I have watched many lives be transformed through the work that happens in this space.

In the midst of an opioid crisis that is devastating our communities, we need to be insisting that more resources be offered to the people who need them, not fewer.

The Wesley Day Centre provides vital services to the most marginalized people in our community. People come for meals twice a day, can often access food to bring away with them and are not required to show ID or pay money. Folks who are sleeping outside can bring laundry to be washed while they use computers or take showers. I often walk into the Day Centre and am delighted to hear the piano being played by someone who learned long ago in a different life.

The Day Centre also houses a Street Health Clinic. Numerous providers share the space and offer services such as foot care clinics, addiction counseling and on - site Ontario Works (welfare) staff. The Public Health harm reduction team offers a needle exchange program, naloxone training and anonymous HIV testing among other services.

The Shelter Health Network provides comprehensive primary care and mental health and addictions treatment. The people coming to the Street Health Clinic at the Wesley Day Centre face numerous barriers in accessing care. They often have active addictions, acquired brain injuries and histories of severe trauma. They might have mental health issues that preclude them from attending to basic hygiene. Many of them do not have health cards.

When they do access care elsewhere, they report feeling stigmatized. They come to us afterwards saying that they were treated poorly and "If those people only knew what I have been through in my life, they wouldn't treat me the way they do."

Wesley staff are our close allies. They will bring people to the clinic who have not seen a doctor in decades, yet are clearly suffering from poor health. These clients trust their workers and have them sit in on initial appointments until they feel comfortable enough seeing us on their own.

Due to their deep distrust towards the healthcare system, these "warm handovers" are invaluable. Wesley staff will sit with a sick client in the Emergency Department or accompany them to specialist appointments to ensure that they receive the care they need. They will call me when they are concerned for the welfare of someone with cognitive impairment who is sleeping outside and has not been seen at the centre for a few days.

Once clients are housed, Wesley staff continue supporting them to be sure that they are successful in adjusting to life off the street. My patients often tell me how much they value this support.

As a physician working primarily with people who face such daunting challenges, I am often asked if I see success stories. There are many such stories and the Wesley Day Centre contributes to these. Workers have brought numerous clients to me who, having grown up in Children's Aid, have then spent their entire adult lives in jails and shelters.

Their untreated mental illness has prevented them from working, yet they are still on Ontario Works, receiving far fewer benefits than they qualify for. We help them apply for the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) so that they can finally afford housing.

One Wesley worker connected me with a woman who spent years struggling with addictions and working in the sex trade. With intense supports and incredible determination, she was able to get housed, stay clean and start parenting her child. She is still parenting that child.

Sometimes a patient who trusts me enough to share the horrific, life defining trauma that happened to them in childhood walks away from an appointment with a slightly lighter burden, knowing that one other person in the world knows their story and cares.

These are just a few examples of the successes I see.

Despite colossal efforts from many fronts, opioid-related deaths in our city continue to increase. The Wesley Day Centre provides a hub of services and hope for many of those on the front lines of this crisis.

Some may argue that the individual services the Day Centre provides are available at different places within the city, but having them all together under one roof is what makes the Day Centre so successful. Centres like these only work in areas of the city where the people in need can access them easily.

For people who have gone through their lives falling through the cracks and feeling they are being swept aside, the closure of the Wesley Day Centre sends yet another message that their lives don't matter.

On behalf of the people I care for in this community, I ask Hamiltonians to speak up and tell the City that you care about these vulnerable people. And I ask the City of Hamilton to help find a solution so that the Wesley Day Centre can continue to provide care for this community in the same holisti c and compassionate way it does today. Dr Jill Wiwcharuk Lead physician, Shelter Health Network

This article was first published in The Hamilton Spectator on June 14, 2019.

Dr. Jill Wiwcharuk is the Lead Physician at the Shelter Health Network.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted June 17, 2019 at 19:05:30

This really concerns me. I live in this area and I find the WC to be a wonderful and needed operation. My understanding is that Wesley Housing has cancelled the program out of revenge for attempting to put a safe injection site there.

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By nicolesmith (registered) | Posted June 19, 2019 at 04:11:29

TnT, thank you. Dr Jill and the rest of our team have been reaching out to many community leaders and we are hearing the same message: we need the Day Centre to continue.

I hope you can join us at the rally to save the Wesley Day Centre at City Hall on June 25th at noon.

https://www.facebook.com/events/23620301...

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By StreetAdvisor (registered) | Posted June 19, 2019 at 06:12:42

I wonder how many addict Jill Wiwcharuk has diverted to addiction treatment since her Consumption and Treatment facility opened last year?

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