People who are homeless, or in need, will soon be able to see a family doctor at The Mustard Seed.
Byron Bradley, Central Alberta’s managing director with the charity, said the physician will be available for a few hours one day a week starting later this month.
He said people experiencing poverty or homelessness face barriers that others don’t while trying to access medical treatment. Some of them haven’t seen a doctor in decades.
“Our folks feel very stigmatized to walk into a regular clinic. They feel judged. Maybe they’re carrying everything they own in a garbage bag or backpack,” Bradley said.
But at The Mustard Seed, where people can drop by for a meal or a shelter bed, trusted relationships have been built with staff and volunteers, and they feel much more comfortable seeking services, he said.
The doctor will join the charity’s wellness centre that opened in October, which already provides group therapy, massage therapy and addictions counselling.
Discussions are underway to find dentists who can provide services hopefully starting in the next few months, he said.
Bradley said for some clients, it’s the first time they have ever had a massage, which are provided by massage therapy students.
“What a way to build dignity back up, to bring in a diverse group of health professionals to care for people.”
The Mustard Seed operates an overnight shelter with 46 beds, and is looking for land to develop a supportive, affordable housing project to provide permanent housing with a wellness centre.
He said the number of people seeking meals and beds more than doubled in 2019. If the trend continues, the charity will see even more people in 2020. Hopefully, the economy will start to rebound, but those living in poverty are always the last to see an improvement, said Bradley.
In 2019, The Mustard Seed worked hard to reduce loitering on its property and the nearby alley. Complaints from the neighbourhood have declined since the entrance to the shelter was moved to the front of the building, and the back area was fenced off, he said.
“We’ve continued to make improvements, so we’re a better neighbour and we have less people loitering and doing illegal activity in the area.”
Bradley said RCMP have told him that they are getting fewer calls for assistance in the area, and the charity continues to work closely with Riverside Meadows Community Association.
“We used to hear a lot of complaints and questions. We don’t hear that anymore. We’re proud of this.”