Ryan McNeil


New Book: Homelessness & Health in Canada

June 02, 2014

Ryan McNeil, an SFU postdoctoral researcher, hopes health care providers and policy makers dig deep into a new book he has co-authored to improve health care for Canada’s approximately 200,000 homeless people.

A first in Canada

Homelessness & Health in Canada, published by the University of Ottawa Press, is the first book in Canada to explore how social, structural and environmental factors shape the health of Canada’s homeless.

McNeil is a health scientist affiliated with the Urban Health Research Initiative at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

He worked with Manal Guirguis-Younger and Stephen Hwang to coalesce new research findings with substantive reviews of existing research by emerging and established health researchers. They then created a blueprint for improving homeless people’s health from youth to end-of-life.

Covering a wide range of topics, including the varied makeup of homeless populations, the authors outline policy and practice recommendations to address this ongoing public health crisis.

200,000 a year homeless in Canada

Each year, approximately 200,000 people experience homelessness in Canada. Their living conditions are much more varied and overlapping than what we see when driving through high profile homeless areas such as Hastings Street in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

“While homelessness encompasses a range of living situations from sleeping outside and staying in emergency shelters to couch-surfing, homeless populations are linked by poor overall health,” notes McNeil. “In our book we argue homelessness is one of Canada’s most urgent health crises and, while increased investment in social housing is desperately needed, there is also a need for targeted health programs.”

Book available free online

An open source publication, the entire book can be accessed online for free.

“We understand that financial and other barriers often prevent academic research from reaching lay communities,” says McNeil.

“We see the free and easy accessibility of this book as one of its greatest strengths. While it mainly targets researchers, policymakers, health and social services professionals and students, we hope that the book reaches a general audience with an interest in homelessness.”

Three themes

Half of the book contains new research originating in Canada. Divided into three thematic sections, the book explores:

  • How homelessness affects the health of particular homeless populations, such as youth, immigrants, refugees and people of Aboriginal ancestry.
  • How new evidence-based approaches to improving population health outcomes and health-care services delivery could be used to inform the creation of more effective homelessness policies and programs. For example, community- and shelter-based health services are shown to optimize access to care.
  • How emerging best practices in the care of homeless populations could improve their health. This section includes chapters exploring: the integration of mental health services within a shelter-based, managed alcohol program, innovations in integrating homeless health-care services and the development of an emergency shelter-based hospice.
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