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Helping the homeless end their journey with dignity: A Client Care Worker’s story

Personal Support Worker helps palliative homeless clients

Dying is a lonely experience. Even if surrounded by friends and family, the act of passing from this life is done alone. But what if the lead up to death is also experienced without anyone at your side? For homeless people who are either disconnected from their family or have none at all, being palliative can add layers onto a solitary existence. Client Care Workers, like Rinah Oloo, who work at the Ottawa Mission Hospice, can be one of the only people those living with homeless have with them as they end their journey.  

Rinah is a Carefor employee who works at the Mission Hospice as part of the partnership between Carefor, Shepherds of Good Hope, The Ottawa Mission and Ottawa Inner City Health. The partnership brings health care professionals together to form teams that support homeless people out of programs across the city such as the Mission Hospice and Oaks, a 55-unit facility which provides a Managed Alcohol Program.

Rinah started at Carefor 16 years ago as a Personal Support Worker, providing care in the community, but transitioned to her current role as a Client Care Worker (CCW) working out of the Oaks and the Mission 13 years ago. In her work she provides much of the same care she gave in the community such as grooming, bathing and feeding, but with the added complexities of not only supporting a homeless community but also those who are palliative. “It’s a humbling responsibility. Many people have no families. We become like their families,” says Rinah.

The nature of a PSWs work goes beyond what people might see as typical health care – the diagnosis and the treatment – it assists someone in the day to day of managing their condition. But when one is combining that support with the possibility of homelessness, mental health issues, and addiction and then on top of it end of life care, the complexity of the care can grow exponentially.

Palliative care is an approach. While the term palliative suggests an imminent end, the palliative journey can take time and requires a long care approach, not just physical but also emotional. “We give them emotional support,” says Rinah. “Because they are people dealing with loneliness. People who are living on the street, people who have no family. We step in as their families and give them that emotional support.”

While there is no one story for individuals who are experiencing homelessness, addiction issues can be common and add challenges to care. However, as with all care provided to people at the Mission Hospice, a coordinated approach between the care team including doctors, nurses and CCWs, helps them understand and manage their addiction through their palliative care. “We have a harm reduction program and can prescribe alcohol because it is something they have had through their lives. We’re not going to take it away because of the negative impact,” says Rinah.

It’s not easy work, but for Rinah, knowing she’s helping people is its own reward. Knowing that someone who may have no one in their life end their journey with someone at their side to hold their hand and to listen to their story is why she does it. “People tell you about their lives. They tell you why they became homeless and how they lost connection with their families,” she says. “We empathize, we listen. By listening you give them that support that someone is out there. When they’re out on the street no one is listening but by listening you make them feel like someone is there for them.”

“When do you do something good to a person, it motivates you, it lifts your spirits…because you are doing something that is good for humanity…because you’re part of their life and part of their journey; you participate in that journey. We give them physical and mental care so they can leave their life in a dignified way.”

Learn more about Carefor’s partnership with Shepherds of Good Hope, The Ottawa Mission and Ottawa Inner City Health.

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