NEWS

Region COO ready to sleep on street

Réal Cloutier raises funds and awareness about homelessness

Réal Cloutier speaking at the CEO Sleepout kickoff.
Réal Cloutier speaking at the CEO Sleepout kickoff.
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Support Réal Cloutier's fundraising by making a donation

Follow Réal Cloutier live on Twitter from the CEO Sleepout

Visit the Change for the Better website

BY ANDREA BODIE
Winnipeg Health Region
Published Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This is the first in a series of articles about Winnipeg Health Region projects and partnerships that address the health and wellness of the city's homeless population.

The weather channel was somewhat of a fixation for Réal Cloutier this week.

That's because Cloutier, the Winnipeg Health Region's Chief Operating Officer, will be sleeping on the street overnight on Thursday, one of 60 people taking part in the second annual CEO Sleepout in support of homeless employment programs and helping people off the streets.

Cloutier says he will bring his own sleeping bag and plans to dress in layers. "I come from a camping family so I know how to prepare for something like this. I'm not sure how much sleep I'll get, but thankfully for me this is a first-time experience," he says.

The CEO Sleepout aims to raise over $150,000, with funds going to the Downtown Business Improvement Zone's Change for the Better program, supporting homeless employment programs like Siloam Mission's "Mission: Off the Streets Team". CEOs from a range of sectors are challenging their employees and contacts to rally around the cause, with a running tally of donations kept at changeforthebetter.org.

Other notable Winnipeg executives joining Cloutier include Rick Frost, CEO of the Winnipeg Foundation and Winnipeg Health Region board member; Brian Bowman, chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce; Brian Scharfstein, president of Canadian Footwear; Ian Wishart, MLA for Portage la Prairie; Jenni Gerbasi, Winnipeg city councillor (Fort Rouge East Fort Garry); Marilyn McLaren, president of Manitoba Public Insurance. The sleepout will take place in the courtyard at 201 Portage Avenue near Main Street.

Cloutier says the event is intended to raise awareness about an important issue. As many as 2,000 people in Winnipeg are either sleeping on people's couches, hoping for a mat in a shelter or a dry, warm place to sleep on the streets.

These people are living in a constant state of emergency and survival is their primary focus. They take things one step at a time and rely on emergency programs and services for their meals and shelter. The summer months are kinder ones but the harsh winds and cold temperatures can be devastating.

Being without a home creates health and wellness issues that Cloutier says are important to address. That's why the Region has started conversations with over 100 partners working in the area of poverty.

"We see the health consequences and play a part of a larger system with respect to this issue. The homeless population are heavy health-care system users," says Cloutier. "We're going to look after this population by looking at proactive strategies with our partners. There is an opportunity to do something better than we're doing it."

Cloutier says the homeless population are heavy users of emergency services. Many don't have a primary health care provider and rely on emergency room visits to address their health concerns. He referred to the "Winnipeg Street Health Report 2011", which surveyed 300 homeless people, and found that 61.3 per cent had used an emergency room, for an average of four times a year.

"It's hard to be healthy and well when you're focused on surviving," he says. "For me, it's one night. It may get cold but it will be a bit of an adventure, one that helps me understand a reality I'm (thankfully) unfamiliar with."

One of the most recent projects Cloutier and the Region have been part of recently has been the Bell Hotel project to support health coordination for the homeless population. The Bell Hotel is now home to 42 former homeless people, offering life skills training, psychological support and easier access to health care.

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