• Opinion
Applause for Hamilton’s Shelter Health Network
Strathearne Suites Grand Opening - 2016 - people gathering in front of the building
Strathearne Suites Grand Opening - 2016 - people gathering in front of the building

Supportive housing is complex at the best of times. Indwell focuses its supportive housing to include health supports, but limited access to low barrier care in the community can mean a simple wound becomes a life-threatening infection. Add in a pandemic and remove some of social services’ ability to provide outreach services and things get complicated.

For Indwell’s enhanced support programs in east Hamilton, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major threat to the health and wellness of tenants who require supports.

Parkdale Landing and Strathearne Suites — both located in the east end — are Indwell’s enhanced support programs in Hamilton. Tenant fees cover their furnished studio apartments and a daily hot meal, and Ministry of Health funding rounds out the program budget. The robust program staff team includes housing support workers and professionals like social workers, addiction support workers, and nursing staff. These on-site staff supports mean that people’s dependency on emergency room visits, hospital stays, and other costly external supports are dramatically reduced. However, the pandemic introduced new challenges for people with high-acuity needs.


Complex health-care scenarios were confronting us frequently throughout the first 10 months of the pandemic. A tenant with limited mobility would have an infected wound but could not get an appointment to see a doctor. Another tenant would have a new cough and a fever and should be tested for COVID, but there are barriers: the nearest testing centre is two bus rides away — while at the same time they’ve been discouraged from taking public transit — and two taxi fares is out of the question with their limited income. Several other people would be encouraged to get testing for possible close contact, but they have similar cautions and fears.

While many organizations stand out in their response to the pandemic’s extra challenges, one has been exceptional: Hamilton’s very own Shelter Health Network. In January, it obtained funding to open a weekly health clinic at our Parkdale Landing apartment building — staffed by a doctor, and co-ordinated and supported by our nurses, who also follow up with the treatment plans.

Shelter Health staff were already involved with both programs as many tenants were familiar with specific Shelter Health staff before they found their home with Indwell. Since the opening of the clinic at Parkdale Landing, the doctor on-site has become a consistent, trustworthy, and familiar face. The 57 people who call Parkdale Landing home now have access to a weekly doctor visit if they need it, and for the 39 people who live at Strathearne Suites, Shelter Health’s non-stigmatizing health care is not far away. In some cases, the consistent care offered by this clinic has saved lives.

We believe COVID outbreaks were avoided in our program for these reasons:


Education: Indwell staff have been consistent in educating about the coronavirus as well as safety and prevention. They also modelled best practices by getting tested and vaccinated themselves.

Support: For the few who tested positive, our staff were able to support these tenants in their recovery.

Allies: When we alerted Shelter Health Network, they provided access to testing so that our nurses could perform COVID testing in-house, meaning cases were identified early and community transmission was virtually cut off. And we’re hopeful future outbreaks will not be a threat thanks to continued testing and the high vaccination rate we’re seeing. A few tenants made their own appointments and found their own transportation to city clinics. Staff supported others to book and obtain their vaccines. But, as soon as they were able to, Shelter Health arranged to bring vaccinations directly to these programs, and they’ve promised second doses when those are needed. In one case, they unpacked their supplies to administer the vaccine to a tenant who saw them in the parking lot as they were leaving. People who likely would not make it to a clinic received a vaccination and will likely get fully vaccinated thanks to Shelter Health Network.

Many of us are familiar with food deserts — areas of the city with inadequate access to grocery stores, for example. While it may be a stretch for the technical definition, Hamilton’s Code Red has continually highlighted areas in the city where people have poor health outcomes — health-care deserts. The initial outcomes at the Parkdale Landing clinic demonstrate the value of Shelter Health’s services in areas outside of the downtown core. They know how to remove barriers and deliver vital, cost-effective, and compassionate health care to some of our most vulnerable neighbours.

We cannot speak more highly of the work of Shelter Health Network and their excellent care of Hamilton’s most vulnerable.

Author picture

Rachel Courey is the Program Manager for Indwell’s enhanced support programs in Hamilton: Strathearne Suites and Parkdale Landing.

Author picture

Amy Brouwer is Program Supervisor at Indwell’s newly opened and adjacent McQuesten Lofts and was key to the launch of the health clinic.

This article was originally published in the Hamilton Spectator

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