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Public Health & Homelessness


Written by: Lauren Anderson

Edited by: Jacqueline Cheung


Dear CCP readers,


Homelessness is a public health issue. Ending homelessness is a goal of local, federal, and global agencies. People experiencing homelessness experience mental, physical, and environmental health issues which all intersect in the field of public health. In this blog post, we define public health, discuss the importance of homelessness prevention, and how we as a society can advance health equity.


The Canadian Courage Project (CCP) strives to create meaningful change to better the mental and physical health of youth facing homelessness. Our mission is to continue caring for and educating our community.


If you would like to learn more information regarding the current state of homelessness in Canada and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), welcome! If you are returning for more information about the particular challenges faced by youth experiencing homelessness and those with animal companions, welcome back! If you are new to our blog, welcome to the community, and thank you for your interest in learning more about issues regarding the homelessness crisis in Canada and beyond - you are one step closer to becoming a changemaker in your community, and you are in great company.


What is Public Health?


Public health is a term that is heard by many but is not always fully understood. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, we all became more aware of what public health was and what our local public health departments do to protect us. For a better understanding of how homelessness is a public health issue, we would like to provide a clear definition to build upon. Public health is defined as “the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities.” We believe that as a society, we should be committed to making sure our neighbors are taken care of equally. Equitable health care and prevention of issues, such as homelessness, are crucial for a prosperous and healthy future for our society as a whole. Public health is important because it is focused on promoting healthcare equity, quality, and accessibility.

Homelessness is a public health issue that highlights various health disparities present in the community.


Secure housing is a human right, and housing instability harms the physical health of humans due to a lack of necessary resources. It causes levels of stress that directly affect one’s health. Community members, nonprofit organizations, and public health professionals are all dedicated to alleviating the issue of homelessness.


There are many critical health outcomes of homelessness, including the fact that people experiencing homelessness are three to four times more likely to die prematurely. It is essential that we collectively work towards accessible and equitable care for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. The first step in addressing these issues is to first find stable, safe, and secure housing for those in need. The stress of being unhoused on top of not having the time to properly take care of one’s health greatly affects their health outcomes. In the next section of this post, we will discuss the importance of preventing homelessness for a stronger future for the next generations. It is a public health goal to end homelessness, but it is also important that we call attention to interventions that will prevent this issue.


Preventing Homelessness


In our last blog post, we discussed affordable and accessible housing and the efforts the Canadian government has made to end homelessness with the Housing First campaign. We believe that finding housing solutions is the first step necessary to end and prevent homelessness. Aside from housing, other areas have an impact on one’s future outcomes, including, education, the foster care system, access to healthcare systems, and more. Each of these structural areas of society leads to the future outcomes of all youth, yet there are many disparities due to varying socioeconomic factors.

To adequately prevent homelessness, there must be interventions created on a systemic level. Without this high level of intervention, meaningful change is not possible. We aim to educate our community on these issues so you can continue the conversation and serve as advocates to your local government for continuous change.

There is an existing public health framework designed to model how prevention should work, created by Leavell and Clark in the 1940s. They focused on the idea of primary prevention which led to expanded theories on higher levels of prevention. One of the newer levels of prevention is called, “quaternary prevention,” proposed by Jamoulle and Roland in the late 1980s. Quaternary prevention is meant to identify patient risk factors for appropriate medical treatment. This strategy is important as it incorporates a medical and sociological approach to understanding the health behaviors of different groups within the community, therefore it is critical in understanding, preventing, and ending homelessness.

Prevention strategies are incorporated by many community partners, including our organization. Preventing such large issues as homelessness requires a multi-faceted approach. We at the CCP are focused on educating youth, promoting mental health initiatives, and partnering with local shelters to help assist adolescents and young adults in transition during a critical time in their lives. If you would like to learn more about our work, click here.


Advancing Health Equity


One of the main goals of the field of public health is to eliminate health disparities to advance and achieve health equity. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health equity as something achievable when “everyone can attain their full potential for health and well-being.” Health equity is achievable when structural change is made, and efforts are created to allocate equal resources to all socioeconomic groups within the community.



How can this be done?


Here are the numerous ways Canada’s Public Health Office is making an effort to advance health equity:

  1. Action on Factors Influencing Health: these factors include: income, education, social environment, physical environment, social support networks, sex and gender, healthy child development, and culture.

  2. Generating evidence-based decisions: Dr. Tam’s office creates an annual report using scientific, translational evidence to provide accurate data leading to decision-making.

  3. Working in Partnership: Dr. Tam’s office acknowledges that health promotion requires a diverse group of people from all agencies and organizations for diverse solutions. These partners include Canadians with lived experiences, international partners, academia, legislators, local and federal governments, non-profit and private sectors, primary health care partners, and indigenous partners.

Dr. Theresa Tam is Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, and she introduced six focus areas to increase health promotion and prevention. These focus areas include:

  1. Drugs and alcohol

  2. Eliminating tuberculosis

  3. Healthy children and youth

  4. Sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections

  5. Antimicrobial resistance

  6. Healthy-built environments

Some of these areas are more specific, but it is clear that our public health practitioners are focused on advancing health equity using a diversified strategy. If you would like to read more about public health goals on a global scale, read here to learn more about the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.

Our goal at the CCP is to better the well-being of people facing homelessness. If you would like to join our team or support us on our mission, please contact us! Thank you for reading our blog! Feel free to leave a comment with your feedback and/or insights to help us enrich the quality of future posts and cater to the interests of our community of changemakers.


- The CCP Team


Sources

  1. CDC Foundation. (n.d.). What is Public Health? https://www.cdcfoundation.org/what-public-health

  2. National Information Center on Health Services Research & Health Care Technology (NICHSR). (n.d.). Home. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/nichsr/index.html

  3. Public Health Degrees. (n.d.). Understanding Homelessness as a Public Health Issue. https://www.publichealthdegrees.org/homelessness-public-health-issue/

  4. Pandve, H. T. (2015). Changing concept of disease prevention: From primordial to quaternary. Archives of Medicine and Health Sciences, 3(1), 87-89. https://www.amhsjournal.org/text.asp?2015/3/1/87/152272

  5. World Health Organization. (n.d.). Health Equity -- Global. https://www.who.int/health-topics/health-equity#tab=tab_1

  6. Government of Canada. (n.d.). Chief Public Health Officer of Canada - Biography. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/corporate/mandate/about-office-cpho/biography.html

  7. Government of Canada. (n.d.). Health Equity Approach and Areas of Focus. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/population-health/health-equity/health-equity-approach-areas-focus.html

  8. United Nations. (n.d.). THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/


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