Who Gives a Buck About Refugees?
The Canadian Centre for Immigrant and Refugee HealthCare will kick off the summer with a fundraiser at the historic Scarborough Bluffs on June 25 to help launch a mental health support program at the centre.
The event, called “Who Gives a Buck About Refugees?” is meant to draw attention to the barriers newcomers face when trying to access healthcare in Ontario. Proceeds will help the “Let Love In” program grow, which is geared at helping kids and youth cope with their journey as immigrants.
“Refugees are…shockingly resilient people,” says CCIRHC co-founder Dr. Paul Caulford. “But they’ve had it beaten out of them and they’ve lost their confidence over time… So (the program) is for kids – to restore and grow that resilience and confidence to be able to…turn this (journey) into a positive light.”
The volunteer-led centre receives most of its funding from a small government grant that has not increased in 20 years. Most of it goes towards overhead costs and the extensive coverage of medicines and treatments.
But with a 400 percent increase in patients since its inception in 1999, Caulford says that money lasts only about four months of the year. As a result, even the doctors and dentists who volunteer have had to collectively pay $50,000 a year out of their own pockets to sustain the operation.
That’s why the centre needs to raise $500,000 over the next 12 to 18 months to continue providing care, ranging from routine checkups and blood tests to CAT scans, prenatal, dental and mental health services, among others.
The June event hopes to raise at least $20,000, says Caulford, “of the $100,000 we need for a matching donation” for the “Let Love In” program from a donor he could not identify on record.
“So the event is to fill the gaps,” he says.
For $150 a ticket, donors will enjoy international food along with wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages served at stations spread across the historic Scarborough Bluffs, an escarpment along Lake Ontario that became the inspiration of the township’s name. The event goes from 6 to 9 p.m., and there will be both a silent and live auction, a door prize and a scotch-tasting event.
While the price may seem hefty, it is the lowest the centre can afford to go.
“We simply can’t get it lower and raise funds to treat refugees,” Caulford says.
The “Let Love In” program will offer mental health services and support to children and young adults escaping war, sex-trafficking and enslavement, among other traumas, through Narrative Exposure Therapy.
According to the American Psychological Association website, NET is used to “establish a coherent life narrative in which to contextualize traumatic experiences.”
As Caulford explains, it consists of creating “activities and places” that can help kids “build the (human) connections” which so many of us take for granted, but which he says are absolutely necessary for a healthy life.
“You know what mental health is? It’s being able to have some food so you’re not always hungry, so you can focus on other things like school work,” he says. “It’s about being able to be with your friends and be part of a community…It’s sustaining the actual physical and social determinants for a better life.”
To this end, some of the proceeds will also be used to train social workers, teachers, medical students “and anybody who’s got the interest and capacity” to help at the centre.
That's important, because with recent severe provincial and federal cuts to immigrant and refugee services, the centre will only get busier.
Fortunately, as Caulford says, the centre is “built on an abundance of love” – and it receives as much as it gives.
A Fighting Chance
At the age of seven, Iñaki Gomez, his mother and younger sister arrived in Canada with one suitcase each, leaving their entire life in Mexico behind. Like so many other immigrant families, lack of money was the main reason they put off going to hospitals.
“Sometimes...it meant skipping a meal just so we could go to the doctor for ten minutes,” Gomez recalls.
While the government does offer newcomers certain services such as the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), which offers medical coverage to groups including failed refugee claimants, the systemic barriers overwhelmingly outweigh these band-aid fixes.
Case load backlogs, for instance, can leave asylum seekers in limbo for years as they wait to hear a decision, even a denial. Additionally, the three-month wait period for all new Ontarians who are eligible for publicly funded health care coverage (OHIP), can “increase...the risk (of otherwise healthy newcomers) for negative health outcomes,” according to a report by the Wellesley Institute.
For one, it goes against the principle of healthcare as a human right. But if that wasn’t enough, advocates have also pointed to the fact that allowing newcomers to get sick just to treat them three months later costs taxpayers even more in the long run.
It is therefore estimated that as many as 500,000 people in Ontario are living without medical coverage due to their immigration status.
As a result, 80% of CCIRHC patients are medically uninsured. And while 20% are eligible for the IFHP, the centre is their only hope after being asked to pay up front by other walk-in clinics.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent cuts to legal aid services for immigrants and refugees will only exacerbate the problem.
That’s why places like the CCIRHC offer newcomers like Gomez and his family more than a fighting chance.
“Finances should not be an issue when it comes to healthcare,” he says. “And that’s why this place exists.”
Today, a burly 19-year-old with a ponytail and big dreams, Gomez spends his Saturdays volunteering at the CCRIHC.
Along with other volunteers, he helps kids and young adults learn English through a program called “Make Room to Read.” With the help of the in-house dietician, they also help parents cultivate healthy eating patterns.
“It’s just a way for me to give back for everything (the centre) did,” he says. “Not just for myself, but for my family.”
Inspired by “some of the best doctors, nurses and staff...you can ever imagine,” Gomez decided to follow in their footsteps and study medicine, “so that I can give back as quick as I can,” he says.
Now he studies Life Sciences at McMaster University and shadows with a pediatric cardiologist with whom the centre works.
In April, Gomez also launched a Go Fund Me page for a project that would help get affordable, waterproof paper microscopes to an impoverished region of the Dominican Republic, where he and his church visit annually for charitable work.
The microscopes are inspired by Stanford University professor Manu Prakash, who first presented the idea on TED Talks India in 2017. They cost “less than a dollar to make,” according to the Go Fund Me page, and work just like a real one, capable of doing everything from urine analyses to diagnosing malaria, adds Gomez.
So after watching Prakash’s presentation, and moved by the weight of his own experience, Gomez sprung into action.
“It’s a basic human right that everyone should have healthcare,” he says, but due to rampant discrimination, Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic “don’t have access to” it.
“So, yeah, I do relate,” he says.
Like Dr. Caulford, Gomez shows no signs of slowing down.
For the foreseeable future, their Saturdays are devoted to the Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant HealthCare and its patients.
And that’s just fine with them.
“It feels amazing knowing that we’re making an impact on (people),” says Gomez.
Dr. Caulford agrees.
After all, he says, it’s all “really (about) the human capital.”
The Canada Centre for Refugee and Immigrant HealthCare is located at 4158 Sheppard Ave. East, Scarborough, and opens Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 p.m. with extended hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as one Saturday a month, though patients are encouraged to make appointments whenever possible.
To purchase tickets for the Who Gives a Buck About Refugees? fundraiser, please go to: https://www.healthequity.ca/product/gives-buck-refugees/