Women’s Health Days at YWCA Hamilton help provide healthcare to those who need it most

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For women experiencing homelessness, accessing healthcare is fraught with barriers – despite the fact that they have some of the most complex health needs in the community.

That’s why YWCA Hamilton was proud to host healthcare providers from across the community this week for Women’s Health Days, a two-day event offering a range of services and supports for vulnerable women who face barriers to accessing traditional healthcare.

Offered in partnership with the Greater Hamilton Health Network, Women’s Heath Days offer over 20 different services to attendees, ranging from Naloxone training and kits, STI testing, contraception, Hep C testing and treatment, smoking cessation, Covid-19 and flu vaccinations, mental health supports, and midwifery care. Participants could also access food, yoga, wellness activities, hot chocolate, and clothing donations.

This week, 40 women attended on both days of the event, with 60 unique individuals attending and 20 20 returning for more support on the second day.

“Health is a very sensitive part of our lives. It’s incredibly intimidating at times to access services, conversations, and discussions on our health journeys, whatever that may be. For women and gender-diverse folks, that conversation becomes even more vulnerable, even more difficult to access, and in some cases, there are even acts of discrimination and violence that are applied in that journey,” said Violetta Nikolskaya, Senior Program Analyst at YWCA Hamilton.

“Women’s Health Days, which are inclusive of women, Trans and cis, as well as gender-diverse and non-binary persons, allows individuals who have been otherwise kept away from access to healthcare to receive the healthcare they need, in the here and now, and in a one-stop-shop.”

Since this initiative began, over 300 women have accessed healthcare during six Women’s Health Days events – three of which have been hosted at YWCA Hamilton. The innovative format has garnered international attention, including winning an award at the international Integrated Care Conference in Denmark in May 2022.

Given the success of Women’s Health Days here in Hamilton, there is hope that it will become a permanent event – not only here in Hamilton, but across Ontario, Canada, and the world.

“We are more than willing to share this model – we’ve been sharing it with other Ontario Health Teams, and I shared this model at the Canadian Ending Homelessness Alliance conference in November,” said Melissa McCallum, the executive Director of the Greater Hamilton Health Network.

“But because it’s not mandated, it’s not something you have to do – it’s something that has to be done from the will of the providers and partners. Most of our providers here are volunteers, so they’re volunteering their time above and beyond their normal workday to make this happen.”

For providers, it’s an opportunity to help treat more women who need care — and for participants, it’s a chance to access not only health services, but a lifeline.

“Oftentimes, many participants are just thankful to have a sandwich and a conversation,” said Melissa. “They’ll say, “I just needed to know that somebody cared.”

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