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Barriers to accessing healthcare for the homeless

The homeless population in Canada experiences unique barriers when it comes to accessing the resources offered by the public health care system in Canada. As a result, their general health and immunity becomes run down, making them more prone to illness. Homeless people have a higher chance of getting sick and therefore a short life expectancy than people living in a house (Health Quality Ontario, 2016). A study based in Toronto showed the longer a person was homeless for, the less likely they were to have a primary doctor that they visited when they needed to seek medical attention. As a result, homeless people often opt for other sources of treatment such as emergency rooms or walk-in clinics, and the cost to treat them in these settings is relatively expensive. On top of this, the study found that 14% of homeless people had no frequent form of health care that they turned to at all. The attitudes of many physicians toward homeless people seeking healthcare have proved to be disrespectful and unfair according to the experiences of 36% of homeless people surveyed. (Street health, 2011).

Another barrier that prevents many homeless people from accessing medical treatment in Ontario, is that often they do not have an OHIP card. This current system is not effective at providing essential health care to the homeless population. A short-term solution would be funding free mobile clinics to make seeing nurses and physicians more accessible for the homeless. Additionally, homeless people that were provided with information about these free services had better access to health care (Health Quality Ontario, 2016). By offering health care resources alongside other services that homeless people seek, and often need to prioritize over healthcare, homeless people are more inclined to access health services. Resources such as these are vital to maintain the health of those experiencing homelessness, especially during the unforgiving winter months.

(Gulliver, Tanya (2014) Homeless Hub)

Going forward, the provincial and federal governments need to take steps to improve the accessibility of health care by removing barriers that prevent the homeless from receiving the health care they deserve. Homeless people currently face unacceptable inequalities as a result of our current healthcare system and every Canadian deserves equal access to healthcare.


Gulliver, Tanya (2014) “How Can We Improve Healthcare Access for the Homeless?” Homeless Hub. Available from:

Health Quality Ontario. Interventions to improve access to primary care for people who are homeless: a systematic review. Ont Health Technol Assess Ser [Internet]. 2016 April;16(9):1-50. Available from: Series.

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