Opportunities - Bridging the divide between acute medical care and housing: A comprehensive evaluation of a “medical respite program” for the homeless

Bridging the divide between acute medical care and housing: A comprehensive evaluation of a “medical respite program” for the homeless

University of Calgary


Persons with lived experience of homelessness (PWLEH) tend to have complex medical and social needs. They frequently present to the hospital to meet these needs. Unfortunately, though hospitals can treat acute medical conditions, they are not well-equipped to address social barriers (such as housing) that are frequently the root causes of ill-health. PWLEH are therefore discharged back to the street, with no real change in either their longterm trajectory in health or social conditions.


Medical respite programs (MRPs) are an innovation that bridges hospital-based medical care with shelter-based housing and social support. They are designed for patients too well for acute care, but too sick to be discharged to the street. In Calgary, an MRP recently opened as a transitional unit (based within a homeless shelter) that provides nursing care, while also focusing on helping PLEWH obtain housing at the same time. There are only three other MRPs in Canada. It is unknown how effective they are in improving health, and whether these interventions provide good value for money.


Our study aims to evaluate the effectiveness of the Calgary MRP. We will follow a group of PLEWH before and after attending the MRP to see if there are any differences in their health outcomes. An economic analysis will help to determine the program costs of this intervention, and its value to society.


Lastly, in depth interviews with MRP patients will be conducted to better understand how the MRP has (or has not) affected their social circumstances, support networks, engagement with the health system, and ultimately their well-being. Our findings will inform other locations, particularly in Alberta, on the effect and value of this innovation for a particularly under-served population.


Roles and Responsibilities

We are looking for people with lived experience of homelessness to be patient partners with us on this study. Calgary-specific experiences with homelessness would be helpful but not essential.


Being a patient partner would mean involvement at all stages of the project. This includes current grant application stage (to obtain funding for the study), advising on strategies to recruit people into the study, making sure the outcome we are measuring are important for people experiencing homelessness, and helping to share the results.


Time Commitment

There will be a one time meeting in March 2021, prior to the grant application submission, to discuss the project and the role of the patient partner. This meeting will be with 1-2 members of the study team.


If funded, the project will start approximately January 2022, and go for a total of 3.5 years. There will be meetings every 3 months with the study team to talk about the study, its progress, how to meet any challenges, interpretation of results, and how best to share the results and with whom.


All meetings will be virtual by phone or video-conference (in light of Covid restrictions) and will be about 1-2 hours each.



Patient partners will be offered a gift card of $50 for their essential contribution to each meeting. Patient partners will also be invited to join as co-authors on relevant publications stemming from this study.


For more information or to apply please connect with:

Karen Tang