Toronto Star: "Street nurse earns prestigious honour"
January 22, 2004 -- Today the Toronto Star ran a lengthy piece by Scott Simie about the awarding of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation's Economic Justice Award, which includes up to $100,000 of funding per year for 3 years, to Toronto "street nurse" Cathy Crowe, who has become one of Canada's most prominent and powerful advocates for the homeless.
The article describes Crowe's work for the past 15 years with Toronto's indigent population, and her influential advocacy work since co-founding the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee in 1998. The story does a good job conveying some of Crowe's central points, that society "can't expect people to maintain health if they don't have housing," that housing is a basic human right, and that a "national housing program is as important as medicare." The piece also includes tributes from the Foundation's leaders and Crowe's homeless patients. These include one unfortunate (but hardly unusual) statement from the Foundation president that Crowe is "the saint of the streets," which in our view is not a theme that advances nursing or public health, since it suggests that practitioners are special heavenly beings without human needs, rather than serious professionals. Much better is the executive director's statement that Crowe is a "tireless advocate" who "with one hand, directly provides support, and with the other is trying to change the system"--probably a key factor in Crowe's progress to date. Simie's piece could have provided a little more background on Crowe and better description of the bedside (or perhaps "curbside") nursing she has provided. Its account of this activity--that she has "tended" wounds, "witnessed" births and deaths, and "comforted" the afflicted--does not convey the life or death health care interventions of a community health nurse, though Crowe is at least cited for the idea that shelters expose people to infections like tuberculosis.
An April 2000 Toronto Star article by Nicholas Keung, sparked by Crowe's receipt of a prior award, provides a little more detail in these areas. It explains that Crowe prefers the term "street nurse" to "nurse practitioner" or "community health nurse" because "street nurse" sends the powerful message that, as Crowe says, it is "obscene" that her nursing speciality, in a prosperous nation like Canada, is homelessness. The 2000 piece also explains how she left her earlier nursing career to become a street nurse, and in 1998 co-founded the Relief Committee, which has "prompted the federal government and Toronto and other cites to declare homelessness a national disaster." The story also includes a quote from Crowe who is wondering whether she is still "nursing," since she spends more time now organizing, speaking and lobbying than doing things like treating diabetes.
The Center believes that what Crowe is doing is at the heart of nursing and urge many more nurses to advocate for their patients at the national and public policy level. We applaud the Toronto Star for covering her important work.
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