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Little Things

Jan 24, 2023 | Key Initiatives

Two care specialists share how donations sometimes mean survival.

Some people don’t notice them. Others choose to ignore them. Often, they fall through the cracks. They usually require inpatient care but many are living rough while managing acute mental health issues. 

Nicole Tomiuk, Care Manager, is part of the Assertive Community Treatment Team, “I think these people are forgotten. They are the people you see walking down the street in the inner city pushing a shopping cart and panhandling for money. They spend most of their time by themselves, consumed by auditory or visual hallucinations. I love my job because it is a way to give back to people who don’t have a voice. It’s a way to help people who don’t have support.”

A dedicated medical street team at Alberta Health Services offers wrap-around services for nearly 500 Edmontonians who otherwise would go without health care. The team is supported by funding from the Mental Health Foundation. ‘Little Things’ provides items such as teddy bears, food, sunscreen, diapers, and water.

Keith Lang, Care Manager, co-manages the street team and adds, “When you don’t have income, you’re quite ill, and you don’t have a lot of shelter, food and support, these little things can be the difference between survival and not.”

Both Keith and Nicole speak of the difficulties of building and gaining trust with the up to 500 clients they serve each year. Many of the clients are isolated from family and have nowhere else to go. 

The team encounters heartbreaking stories of poverty, isolation and mistrust.Little Things provides many items such as coffee, which can provide the ideal setting for a connection to build trust.

Keith adds, “We have a lot of people in the inner city who work very hard to get health care. It’s not that the health care doesn’t exist; they are so ill they don’t know how to access it.”

The team celebrates small successes, which look different for every individual. It can range from feeding someone their first meal in days, to obtaining identification, to getting a job. The ultimate goal is stabilization, reconnecting families, and rebuilding dignity. 

Keith says he approaches every day with hope, “The idea is to work us out of a job. If we could make everyone well, that’s our goal.”  Nicole agrees and hopes others can also start to feel empathy. “I just want people to know these people matter. They are somebody’s son or daughter or mom. And  they deserve all the care in the world to live a better life.”