Tent city break-up leaves mobile clinic seeking Greater Victoria’s homeless

Clinic nurse has witnessed rise in sex work, drug use following tent city disbandment

From the time of its April launch, the newly initiated Doctors of the World mobile clinic visited the occupants of Regina Park tent city every Friday to offer health care services.

Now that the tent city has been disbanded, it makes for added work as the nurses and outreach worker of the clinic try to track down people they were treating just last week.

Maude Blanchette Lamothe is the program coordinator, having come from Montreal where a mobile clinic started in 2014. The Victoria mobile clinic is a duplicate of the Montreal program (part of the global program Medecin du Monde) that serves nearly 2,500 people a year in Quebec’s biggest city. Here, Blanchette Lamothe drives the van from Saanich to Sooke to promote and provide basic and primary health care for vulnerable populations.

That includes people who live in remote areas, whether or not they’re experiencing homeless, it’s to find people who live on the margins of society and for various reasons do not have access to health care, Blanchette Lamothe said.

“It is harder now to reach people from tent city because people are scattered,” Blanchette Lamothe said. “We don’t know where and how they’ll reorganize, as a group or not. It is better for them to stay as a group, it gives them kind of a safety net.”

From Tuesday to Friday the mobile clinic visits people on the South Island with nurses from one its two medical partners, Island Health and Cool Aid, and a local outreach worker.

Blanchette Lamothe worked as an outreach nurse providing health care in Iraq, Haiti, Jamaica and Columbia before joining the Doctors of the World mobile clinic in Montreal. There, the population was somewhat different.

“We help sex workers, the homeless, people with drug addictions, and people that don’t have access. In Montreal we also serve an immigrant population that are waiting for status, that don’t have documents to access health care.”

Paid for mostly by Telus, the Doctors of the World van is a well-outfitted clinic with a wide range of basic medical supplies, a sink and counter space, a medical table for patients, Telus wifi and two desks that nurses sit at to enter medical records on.

Since the Regina Park tent city was disbanded on Sept. 9, Blanchette Lamothe said she’s noticed people have returned to riskier behaviours.

“We see a [return] to sex work and an increase in drug consumption because of the stress people are under,” she said. “[At tent city] they felt safe, they were with people. If they consumed in a group, it was safer than being alone. Once evicted, these people are still homeless.

“It doesn’t solve their homelessness, we’re trying to follow the people, we’re trying to collaborate with police departments and with all the supporters to know where are the people so we can reach them best we can to provide them with care.”

The clinic offers three umbrellas of health care. There is sexual and reproductive health, including STI testing and some treatment of STIs, as well as gynecology exams and pap tests. There’s also a heavy focus on harm reduction, providing sterile supplies for drug use such as pipes, needles and syringes. It’s not a needle exchange but the nurses will accept recovered needles to dispose of. In addition to all that, the nurses offer basic health care, treat wounds, and provide over the counter medication and general medical consultations.

“Whatever people’s concerns are, we will try to help, we can refer to other services in the community,” Blanchette Lamothe said. “We are not a substitute for health care, we are trying to fill in the gaps. This is based on research done here before we came.”

Partner with Aids Vancouver Island, Island Health, Our Place, Cool Aid, Solid, police departments and other organizations to identify people in need.

“The best connection is directly with people,” Blanchette Lamothe said.

reporter@saanichnews.com

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