“I think everyone recognizes that the social determinate of health are inequitably distributed,” Turnbull said. “But I don’t think everyone would recognize just how massive [that inequity] is.”
In Canada, the average age life span of a chronically homeless individual is 62 years old, 21 years less than the national average.
“You can challenge these inequities. It just requires you be willing to break a few rules and listen to that community and respond appropriately to their needs, not yours,” Turnbull said.
For OICH, that meant bringing health care to the shelters and meeting patients suffering from addiction and mental health concerns — both of which can be contributing factors to homelessness — where they were.
In the years since OICH began, it has opened palliative care facilities, five supportive housing operations and programmed into its operations safer supply for both opioids and alcohol. It’s about understanding that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to the health-care concerns most affecting vulnerable populations, according to Turnbull.
That’s not been the case in Alberta, where the provincial government has been ironclad about its commitment to a recovery-only approach to substance use disorders, refusing to consider options like safer supply and tamping down on harm reduction in Alberta.
Those policies are impediments to change, Turnbull said while answering questions from the audience, but said they can be overcome.
“You have to show them that what you’re doing is actually going to save lives and money,” Turnbull said. “Most governments will listen when you mention that last thing.”