Richard Doan is a Psychiatrist with Inner City Health Associates and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario
In Toronto’s first week of true winter weather, two homeless men died on the street, one in a bus shelter in the city’s most public square. He was wearing only jeans, a t-shirt and a hospital identification bracelet.
My street outreach teammates and I saw a slight, older woman who had literally been living in a box for months.* The box was about 6 feet long, 4 feet wide and 3 feet high and was covered by a blue plastic tarp. Her furnishings consisted of a few blankets. The “dwelling” was in an alleyway just behind some shops. The lady was disinterested in any form of housing or treatment and never accessed shelters: she always slept in her box. She repeatedly said that she would soon be moving to a Caribbean island. During a particularly bitter cold spell, we became concerned with her safety, and I completed a form for involuntary psychiatric assessment. The emergency department psychiatrist agreed with me that she likely had chronic schizophrenia, but the client was calm and would not take any medication. She promised the emergency department staff that she would go to a shelter if she was discharged. We made it clear that she was unlikely to do so, but after one night in emergency she was given a subway token to go to a shelter. She disappeared and was lost to follow-up. ...continue reading