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Our Stories

When a hospital and a high school come together: a city-wide campaign for the underhoused

Toronto, May 16, 2018

By Selma Al-Samarrai

Emily Carreiro of St. Michael’s Hospital with one of the 814 care packages produced as a result of the campaign that she helped get started
Emily Carreiro with two of the 814 care packages produced as a result of the campaign that she helped get started.

What does it take for an idea to become a city-wide initiative? In this case, it took a high school, a local community hospital, a shared interest in advocacy, and a continuing friendship between a high school teacher and her former student.

Last December, Emily Carreiro, a St. Michael’s Hospital administrative assistant, contacted her former high school teacher Linda Izzo with an idea to create care packages for the homeless or displaced patients upon discharge from the hospital.

Linda, who coordinates Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School’s Peer Ministry program jumped at the chance to strengthen this mission and outreach, and within three months the high school donated 8,704 items - various essentials such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, lotion, socks, a hat, feminine hygiene products, lip balm, and tissue - that quickly filled 814 care packages.

“I used to be a part of the Peer Ministry program, so I know the outstanding work that they do for the community. When I told Linda what St. Michael’s does for the homeless population in Toronto, she thought it would be a great idea to collaborate and donate for the season of Lent,” said Emily.

The campaign was named Be An Angel after the St. Michael’s archangel. Though it was led by the 27 students in the Peer Ministry Program, the entire high school’s 1,080 students became involved in creating care packages for patients discharged from St. Michael’s emergency department, trauma clinic, and neurosurgery clinic.

“This project really opened our eyes. When we think of helping homeless and disadvantaged people, we don’t often think of a hospital,” explained Linda. “But through Emily’s involvement, we really came to appreciate the amazing level of outreach that St. Michael’s does for the homeless and disadvantaged across Toronto.”

The campaign’s success enabled the scope of the distribution to expand to include The FOCUS Team, a partnership between St. Michael’s and Cota that supports individuals living with serious mental health illnesses that significantly impair their ability to live independently.

Tarak Ahmed, a social worker on the FOCUS outreach team was able to give all 200 current clients a care package.

They were also handed out to people in St. Michael’s Rotary Transition Centre (RTC), a 24-hour centre that allows vulnerable patients who are discharged from St. Michael’s Emergency Department to stay for up to 18 hours as they prepare to return back to the community. In that time they can rest, sleep, launder their clothes, shower, access food and drinks, and work with staff to consolidate their discharge plan.

“When we normally see our clients, we support them with medication management, access to community resources, daily activities, among other things,” said Tarak. “With these care packages we were able to say ‘here’s someone who cares about you and wants you to have this.’ I think it has a huge impact on those living on the streets. It’s a small but very meaningful gesture.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 29 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

See More of Our Stories in 2018