I was driving to the library one morning, when on the radio I was listening to a popular program on CBC Radio One with show host Matt Galloway. He was having an interesting conversation with a Toronto community neighbourhood outreach worker, residing and working in the Jane and Finch area. There had been another shooting the night before, the 3rd in three months in fact, and there was public outcry. “How can we stop the death of these young adults who have barely begun to experience life?” I found the response from the outreach worker intriguing. He was voicing his frustration about the “system.” What he meant was that even though study after study was conducted about violence and poverty in the neighbourhood, reports simply piled on top of municipal desks and nothing was done – even 10 years later! His response (which I believe is a Godly one) was to stop waiting for others to make changes in his neighbourhood – he would step up to the plate. Even though he didn’t have the support of a government program with resources and support, he decided to use his background in education to establish an after school student education programs where youth could come, hang out in a safe environment, get some help with their homework, and be with others who could offer mentorship. He does what he can, with what he can.
I started thinking about the Barton Street neighbourhood where HHSM resides. In 2010, the Hamilton Spectator highlighted through their “Code Red” series that poverty and health go hand in hand. Studies indicate that the life expectancy of those living in the Barton and Wellington neighbourhood is 21 years less than those in other affluent areas of Hamilton (eg Flamborough). This neighbourhood has one of the highest rates of emergency room visits, lack of primary care physicians, high rates of respiratory-related problems and psychiatric emergencies. These indicators reflect the limitations in the social determinants of health characteristic of this neighbourhood, which include high unemployment and job insecurity, poor working conditions, low housing values, high rates of people living below the poverty line, increased dropout rates from school, early life disadvantages, food insecurities, social inclusion and lack of social safety nets.
You know, God speaks to us in all kinds of ways. For me, it was hearing that interview on CBC that morning. It was as if He was saying – “You’re aware of the needs in the Barton street neighbourhood, now what’s your response?” This was the impetus for beginning the CHIP program down at HHSM. “CHIP” or the Community Health and Illness Prevention Program’s goal is to increase awareness and engage HHSM members in talking about health issues. The topics are diverse. They include mental health, sexual and reproductive health, benefits of yoga and exercise, street safety, and how to promote healthy interpersonal relationships – just to name a few. The goal of the CHIP program is to bring education and discussion in topic that are community driven ie what is most important and relevant to members within the community. We have joined with health partners which already exist in Hamilton. The YMCA bring their “Y on Wheels” programming on the last Friday of every month. The North Hamilton Community Health Centre makes frequent visits sharing their knowledge and resources about diabetes and nutrition. Lexi Van Harten came and spoke to us about the Hamilton Food Share Guide and the Good Food Box programming. Each member attending left with fresh produce from the raffle Lexi held. Jill Dennison from the Schizophrenia society lead an excellent discussion about mental health, and our resident nurse Julia lead a blood pressure clinic last week where she talked about the importance of diet, exercise and the value of tobacco cessation.
It is an honor and a blessing to see God’s hands at work through the generosity and gifting of many people – those that are familiar with HHSM and those that are just being to learn about what it’s all about. There is no doubt that He is at work in Hamilton! Come and see and celebrate!
Written by Dena, Volunteer at HHSM