WINK was started when Sherbourne staff recognized the need to give homeless, low-income and street-involved women more active support and encouragement to break out of their isolation, seek help with mental and physical health challenges, and improve their quality of life. Experience and research show that homeless and street-involved women are even less likely to seek psycho-social and medical support than men, despite significant health issues. Building trust and helping to meet clients’ most basic needs are essential components of this program. Wednesday mornings were chosen to complement the 5:00-8:30 am Health Bus stop earlier in the morning that primarily connects with sex-trade workers.
What is WINK?
WINK is a drop-in program with on-the-spot clinical services for low-income, homeless and marginally housed and street-involved women and trans women. It offers a free nutritious breakfast in a non-judgmental environment with one-stop access to community outreach staff, counselors, nurses, nurse practitioners and physicians. Clients have the opportunity to socialize, learn more about managing their health and wellbeing and to join in with arts-based creative activities. The women are active partners in shaping the program, and some have become volunteers.
Our approach to WINK reflects Sherbourne’s Strategic Plan priority to “break new ground in quality and outcome-based care”. Focus groups, surveys and one-on-one chats enable us to hear from WINK participants about their needs and ideas for the program, and its impact, and – along with weekly data collection – this information feeds into a continuous learning cycle to maximize quality and safety. We share our learning from this integrated program with health partners, both locally and internationally, through forums and conferences.
Up to 35 women and trans women participate each week. In 2011-12 we recorded 686 visits from clients; in 2012-13 that rose to 1142. That included 489 consultations with counselors and medical staff, and many women have been connected to ongoing health care and services including housing and financial support. As well as improved health and housing outcomes, some participants report better interpersonal and communication skills, setting and reaching goals and development of trust and friendships.
Did you know?
Sherbourne’s Health Bus program won the 2013 Association of Family Health Teams of Ontario’s Bright Lights “Improving Care for the Five per cent” Award for offering “Paps on the Bus.” Street-based sex workers have an increased risk of developing and dying from cervical cancer, but screening rates are estimated to be as low as 39% in inner city Toronto. 294 women were seen at the mobile clinic during a 12-week pilot phase.