Should Money Be Prescribed to Cure Homelessness?

cure homelessness

One Canadian Doctor Says Yes!

Toronto-based family physician and clinical research expert Dr. Gary Bloch of St. Michael’s Hospital and Inner City Health Associates has a rather unorthodox prescription plan. Since 2005, the social justice advocate and medical practitioner has been described as “prescribing money in order to cure homelessness.”

While this moniker oversimplifies his actions a bit, his general approach to health issues related to Canadian poverty is to cure not just the health issues that come about as the symptoms of poverty, but to also cure the poverty that afflicts those same individuals. According to his own personal accounts, this model of using money as medicine really works. His results are so undeniably positive that other medical professionals and social justice leaders are looking to him for health blueprints.

How It All Began

Dr. Gary Bloch has long been an advocate for social justice in the homeless sector and quite sensitive to the toll that poverty takes on the health of his patients. His original goal, when studying to become a doctor, was helping those in need. However, as soon as he found himself in the position to treat patients from low-income backgrounds, he stumbled upon an unexpected roadblock. Nothing he prescribed seemed to be helping them.

It didn’t take Dr. Bloch long to realize the reason his patients weren’t recovering was that he was merely curing the ailments from which they suffered. These ailments were the symptoms of a different root disease: poverty itself. He would have to “cure” individual poverty if he wanted to achieve positive health outcomes. So, in 2005, Dr. Gary Bloch put his prescription booklet down and took to helping his patients fill out applications for financial aid, welfare, and disability instead.

Within a matter of months, patients whose income had increased also witnessed dramatic boosts in their physical and mental health.

During an interview with Vox, Dr. Bloch spoke extensively on the link between poverty and poor health outcomes and the widespread knowledge the medical community has of this.

A Briefing on the Link between Poverty and Poor Health

While the link between poverty and poor health is well-known within the medical community, this information is rarely publicized before the general public. Even people who suffer from medical issues as a direct result of poverty might be unaware of these circumstances if a medical professional doesn’t point out their symptoms and address poverty as the root cause. To quote Health, Poverty, Action, “poverty is both a cause and a consequence of poor health.” The vicious cycle between these two components is the result of social, economic, and political upheaval that adversely impacts working-class Canadians and millions of human beings worldwide.

Common examples of this can be seen in the following scenarios:

  • People suffering from poor health have difficulty maintaining stable employment.
  • Medical attention is often more expensive for those most vulnerable to poverty.
  • In addition to doctor’s fees and the ever-escalating price of prescription medicine, poverty-stricken individuals face other economic roadblocks. These include lack of transportation to and from doctors’ offices or the inability to take time off from work.
  • Poverty-stricken individuals are often forced to work more than one job in order to make ends meet. The result is poor health due to the lack of rest.
  • Poor living conditions as witnessed by homeless people and severely rent-burdened families can lead to the exposure of harmful bacteria, insect and rodent infestations, airborne diseases, and pollution. All of this exposure links back to poor physical health.
  • Physical ailments can cause emotional breakdowns due to the stress of shouldering illnesses one cannot afford to treat or cure.
  • Working while sick runs down the body even more, exacerbating health conditions that already exist.

Dr. Gary Bloch’s Success Stories are Inspiring Other Doctors and Professionals

Years back, Dr. Bloch treated a homeless man who resided in a Toronto tent city. Racked by the trauma of living unsheltered and facing severe physical health problems including diabetes and a foot condition, the man was simply at his wit’s end. Dr. Bloch’s unique treatment boosted this man’s health beyond expectations within 6-12 months.

What treatment was he given? For starters, he was given an apartment, proper nutrient-rich meals, and the prescriptions he needed to treat his physical illnesses. Today, he has a social life, a support group, and a smile on his face.

This is one of the many success stories typical of Dr. Bloch’s patients. As word of his accomplishments began circulating the medical community, other doctors soon began implementing his now-famous “clinical tool on poverty,” a blueprint that was eventually distributed by most of Canada’s major medical organizations. Slightly different models of his approach have even made their way across international borders. However, since social policies vary from country to country, some regions lack the necessary government support needed for large-scale success.

Today, Dr. Bloch’s Inner City Health Associates Agency harnesses the power of more than 90 physicians dedicated to providing homeless services in Toronto. He likens the support of fellow doctors to what once happened decades ago with the cigarette industry. That is, once doctors began openly discussing the link between smoking and poor physical health, the government had no choice but to take action.

You Too, Must Start a Discussion

Share this information to help inform the public of the undeniable link between poverty and physical health. Talk to your local representatives about how housing equals health. Find out what their plans are for addressing the health needs of homeless Canadians.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com


Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith

     

Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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