Quality healthcare for unhoused Canadians

Undergraduate student Bailey Brockman looked at the healthcare crisis facing unhoused Canadians for her FURCA award-winning research project

Bailey Brockman is a fourth-year sociology major and one of the winners of this year’s Festival of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (FURCA) Outstanding Sustainability Research Award.

For her award-winning project, Brockman investigated the many obstacles that prevent unhoused Canadians from getting quality healthcare. She argues that we can stop people from getting seriously sick, and relieve pressure on Canada’s healthcare system, by changing government policy around homelessness. 


Why were you motivated to do this research? 

I wanted to focus on the social pillar of sustainability because I feel it is often understudied and overlooked, and I also wanted to spread awareness of the barriers Canada’s unhoused population faces in accessing healthcare. I’m a firm believer in equality, and I think Canada has a lot of work to do in that area. I think a lot of people don’t realize the extent of the problem. 

The economic pillar of sustainability also interested me. Canada’s homeless population is admitted to hospitals five times more than the general population. That puts a large burden on emergency department resources, and it’s not sustainable to continue this cycle. 

What are some of the biggest healthcare barriers you identified?

Discrimination is a big one. Unhoused people are often treated differently and not prioritized highly in the healthcare system. [When they are in pain, for example, healthcare staff might think they are just trying to access drugs.] Transportation is also a big issue, in that people have a difficult time getting to and from appointments. 

If you don’t have a phone, you can’t receive calls from a doctor. You don’t have a place to put medications that need to go in the fridge. Even just making appointments in the future; when people don’t know where they’re going to be in two weeks' time, it’s hard to make an appointment for a particular area of the city.

What solutions do you propose?

I emphasized the importance of social policy, and I highlighted a couple of organizations and programs that already exist in Canada. One of them is called Neurons on Wheels (NOW). It’s neurologists in Ottawa who go to shelters and people on the streets and provide them first-hand neurological care and assessments. The program takes away that transportation barrier.

I also talked about the housing first approach, which prioritizes finding housing for unhoused people. I looked at a prospective project in Edmonton called the Health Bridge program. The idea would be that patients in the emergency room can be referred to the  program if they're experiencing homelessness. Then they're given resources that can help them get housed, and referred to other things like mental health resources or addiction counselling.

I also came across tiny villages in my research. These are small communities of tiny homes where people are given free housing and a community to live in. The research around these villages suggests that they need a strong sense of community, public support, a large amount of funding with little restrictions, and affordable housing options post-graduation to be successful. 

What surprised you the most?

Maybe the lack of solutions. I was hoping to come into this saying: here is the issue and here is my solution. I didn’t come out with an answer, which was a little bit discouraging. But that’s how research goes, you don’t always come out with a perfect solution to the problem you’re discussing.

How was your experience presenting your research for FURCA?

I had a really good experience presenting for FURCA. Even though this year's conference was virtual, I thought it was run really well, everyone was really engaging, and I learned a lot from the other presenters. It was great to share my research that I am passionate about with others and to be recognized for it.