Get on the bus

When hundreds of thousands of people crowd the streets for Pride, the homeless lose their spots for begging.

“It’s the perfect opportunity to reach out to the community about issues of poverty and homelessness,” says Gord Tanner, who’s planning on parking the Health Bus right in the middle of Pride to make his point.

“Pride Day is always hot – well, hopefully.

“We want to raise awareness about the impact of heat on homeless people, like dehydration and exposure.”

Tanner is the coordinator of the Wellesley Health Bus, a travelling drop-in clinic that makes rounds on a fixed weekly schedule, with community stops at hostels and community drop-ins. It’s a visible presence in the gay village, making a stop every Sunday from 11am to 1pm at the 519 Church Street Community Centre.

During a recent Church St stopover, four people were lined up outside the bus looking nervous, the way everybody looks when they’re at the doctor’s office.

Tanner says staff try not to ask too many questions when people come to the bus for health care. They don’t keep any stats about the homos.

“We ask for a first name, an age and a gender they identify as, if they have a health card or a family doctor. It’s not always safe for people to identify as queer.”

The medical staff focus on harm-reduction, and Tanner says respectful service encourages people to come back, despite having often been treated badly at emergency rooms and drop-in clinics.

“We try to keep it laid back, because the more questions we ask, the more boundaries come up.” Other barriers that the mostly street-population faces are their inability to keep appointments and stick to follow-up care.

The third Annual Health Bus Report was released on May 10 at the Council Fire Native Cultural Centre. It shows the Health Bus was used 13,000 times over the year.

“We deal with presenting need,” Tanner says.

The report shows that most need help with colds and flues, foot care and muscular or skeletal problems. “Informal counselling does occur, but it’s mainly health related.”

The Health Bus also distributes health-related goods like vitamins, bottled water, socks and hygiene products.

The Health Bus will sell bottled water on Pride Day (Sun, Jun 25) as its own fundraiser.

This year’s Pride theme is Heroic Pasts, Proud Futures. Says Tanner: “Considering the history of the Wellesley Hospital in the community, the Wellesley plays a Heroic Past and the Health Bus is hopefully going to have a proud future, a continued legacy even after the Wellesley closes down.”

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