Dr. Naheed Dosani (right) speaks with Dan Thibideau at Toronto's Fred Victor transitional housing centre in July. Mr. Thibideau, who has cancer, is the first patient of the PEACH (Palliative Education and Care for the Homeless) program.  Dr. Dosani, wearing a plaid shirt, has his right arm on Mr. Thibideau's back. Dr. Dosani has black hair and a kind face. Mr. Thibideau, too, has a kind face. He is balding with white beard and is very thin. He wears a dark long-sleeved shirt. They are sitting at a table. Down left is an ashtray with some cigarette butts.

Dr. Naheed Dosani (right) speaks with Dan Thibideau at Toronto's Fred Victor transitional housing centre in July. Mr. Thibideau, who has cancer, is the first patient of the PEACH (Palliative Education and Care for the Homeless) program.
Photo Credit: CP Photo / Chris Young

Palliative care doctors working to aid homeless

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The homeless–like death–are a fact of life in Canada. Always with us, it seems.

At least 30,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night. We see a man sleeping under a black plastic garbage bag. His feet stick out from underneath while his head rests of what appears to be a sleeping bag.
At least 30,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night. © CBC

Walk down a big city street in Canada and you will pass someone begging for change, cuddling a dog or simply passed out from exhaustion.

These are the people who slipped through the cracks. Sometimes it was their fault. Sometimes not.

Whatever the cause, one thing seems quite certain. Very, very few want to be there.

Conservative estimates of the number of homeless people in Canada range from 150,000 to 300,000.

They lead very rough lives. (Think, for example, about sleeping on a grate when it’s 20 below zero, or having what few possessions you might own stolen while you sleep. Happens all the time.)

Estimates say 150,000 to 300,000 Canadians experience homelessness in any given year. The photo shows a person huddled under a blue blanked as holiday shoppers walk by in downtown Toronto. A Christmas tree with lights lit is in the background.
Estimates say 150,000 to 300,000 Canadians experience homelessness in any given year. © CP Photo/Frank Gunn

They can face very tough–and early–deaths.

The statistics are shocking, if not especially surprising: the rate of premature death of homeless people runs from four to seven times higher than that of the general population.

In a country where the life expectancy of the average Canadian is about 81 years, the life expectancy of a homeless person is estimated at 34 to 47.

Mercifully, a lot of Canadians are trying to do something to ease the pain.

One of them is Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care specialist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Dr. Dosani is part of a network of physicians called PEACH (Palliative Education and Care for the Homeless), a new program that takes end-of-life care to the homeless and the vulnerably housed.

He spoke to RCI from Toronto.

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