1. Person-Centred, High-Quality, Safe and Sustainable Health and Wellness for Nova Scotians

Return to Home page

Working with Patients, Clients, Families and Communities

“Accept people for who they are”: Breaking down barriers for people experiencing homelessness

Group Picture

Judy Kelley has seen a lot in her 28-year nursing career, which has included working in emergency departments.

“It wasn’t unusual to treat patients who had very little, either in the way of clothing or support,” she recalls. “The reality is that some people don’t have a home to go to once they are discharged.”

As a member of the Public Health team in Sydney, Kelley had an opportunity last November to work with the Cape Breton Community Housing Association to help roll out a housing first model for the area.

‘Housing First’ is a recovery-oriented approach to ending homelessness that centres on quickly moving people experiencing homelessness into independent and permanent housing, then providing additional supports and services as needed.

“Research has shown that once someone is securely housed and they have that stability, they can focus on other challenges they’re experiencing – such as health and employment,” Kelley explains.

In April 2016, a 12-hour intensive study was initiated to gain an accurate picture of the number of people experiencing homelessness in Cape Breton Regional Municipality. The result was 137 people, of which 54 were either unsheltered or staying at a shelter. The remainder had temporary accommodations through an organization or friends/family.

“Understanding the causes of homelessness and having a more accurate number of how many people are experiencing it is really important to help partners come together to address challenges and support people with housing and moving forward,” Kelley said.

Kelley was seconded in November to work full-time with Cape Breton Community Housing Association/Housing First team to help clients and the team members navigate health care supports, make connections and address health concerns.

“Some of our clients face many barriers to accessing health care. They may not have an address or phone; they have missed multiple appointments before; they don’t have reliable transportation; they don’t have childcare – so many reasons,” Kelley says. “We’re here to help remove those barriers and support clients to navigate the system.”

Kelley returned to her full-time Public Health position in April but stays connected to the housing team through regular meetings, where she continues to support case navigation for housing clients.

She says this work has made a deep impact on her and that one of the greatest lessons is learning to accept people for who they are and meet them where they are.

“The clients have opened my eyes to how people can endure and strive and laugh, in spite of the hardships they are facing. That takes strength and is something we can all learn from.”

Read more about the Homelessness in CBRM study.