Poverty and homelessness exact a huge toll on women’s physical, mental and emotional health. Homeless women typically walk for hours every day. Life on the streets is extremely unsafe and stress is high and ever-present. Most homeless women do not have access to a family doctor or to primary healthcare. Women living in poverty face the constant stress of limited resources—can they pay the rent? Can they buy groceries?—and debilitating discrimination at every turn.
Sistering partners with Inner City Health Associates to provide a primary health clinic onsite, staffed with three family doctors and three psychiatrists, open three days a week. We also provide support in the evening.
At least 60 percent of the women we work with are survivors of domestic violence and abuse; some are fleeing it. Since we opened 24/7 in November 2015, the complexity of issues faced by the women we serve has increased. We have also witnessed an increase in the number of women fleeing domestic violence who arrive at Sistering seeking emergency shelter, as well as seniors with severe mental health issues who have no long-term care services and facilities available to them.
In partnership with Jean Tweed, a trauma informed psychotherapist provides participants with counselling two days a week as part of our primary care support services.
Women in every culture have ways of working together to stop violence. The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, a specialized clinic for women experiencing violence, co-facilitates groups at Sistering for women who have experienced, or are experiencing, trauma.
Through the Community Access Program, a joint program with Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre and West Neighbourhood House and funded by Toronto Central LHIN, Peer Outreach Workers engage homeless or under-housed women who often end up in emergency departments due to precarious health, poor primary health care, lack of access to mental health and addiction services, inadequate housing and insufficient income, to navigate the health care, mental health and substance use systems. Through accompaniments, they provide advocacy and empathy, helping to reduce barriers and increase access to essential social services and community support.
In partnership with West Neighbourhood House, participants have access at the Drop In to a Settlement Worker and immigration lawyer.
Sistering also offers a range of on-site, language-specific programs, services and activities that promote both physical and emotional health and wellbeing including:
• Trauma informed counselling
• Harm reduction counselling and programs
• Access to nurse in the Drop In
• Access to nutritious meals
• Referrals to other medical services and departments
• Dental referral, in partnership with Queen West Community Health Centre and the University of Toronto Dental Clinic
• Medical clinic
• Massage therapy
• Referral to emergency shelters, housing and housing workers, social assistance, legal aid, health care and therapists
• Advocacy and support to access programs and government services
• Accompaniment to, and translation for, appointments with lawyers, doctors, social workers, government departments
• Income and education support
• Various support groups