If you passed by YWCA Hamilton’s MacNab Street building recently, you may have noticed a large Screen for Life bus parked outside.
This bus – a mobile cancer screening clinic – was part of a two-day event offering a range of healthcare services to women experiencing homelessness in our community. These Women’s Health Days were led and delivered by a group of healthcare service providers and support agencies in the city, including YWCA Hamilton, Greater Hamilton Health Network, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Keeping Six, the Alzheimer’s Society, and the De dwa da dehs nye>s Aboriginal Health Centre.
The Women’s Health Days event was created to help close the gap in healthcare services experienced by women and non-binary people who are unhoused. We know that women who experience homelessness have specific and complex healthcare needs – for example, they have greater mental health concerns, higher rates of diagnosed mental health issues, higher reported suicidal thoughts and attempts, and childhood trauma.
Studies have also shown that women experiencing homelessness also report higher rates of gender-specific health concerns, including gynaecological health, pregnancy, feminine hygiene, and sexually transmitted infections.
However, women experiencing homelessness face many barriers to accessing appropriate health care services. Many women don’t have health cards, or face barriers such as long wait times, lengthy travel times, and lack of transportation. Women experiencing homelessness also report feeling stigmatized in traditional healthcare settings, and that for some women, issues relating to addiction may overshadow other health concerns.
In order to address these gaps, the Women’s Health Days provided a one-stop shop where women experiencing homelessness could access a range of healthcare services, including sexual health and HIV testing, Covid-19 vaccines and flu shots, pap smears, wound care, doctor and nurse visits, and Naloxone training. Those who visited were also able to access mental health and social supports, including wellness and engagement activities, hot chocolate, warm clothing donations, and a giveaway table.
Visits were offered on a drop-in basis to roughly 90 women and non-binary people. The health care and community workers were able to deliver services in a comfortable setting that was different from typical clinical environments, in order to help build trust and connections with women who needed care. Women who had never had a pap smear could actually get this lifesaving test, a pregnant woman could access healthcare supplies to help her have a healthy pregnancy, and safe shower access was available for trans people at risk in other spaces.
We are proud to have been part of providing these much-needed services to some of the most vulnerable women in our community – because every person deserves access to high-quality, accessible, and barrier-free healthcare.