NEWS

Region COO ready to sleep outside with Winnipeg leaders

Effort will help raise funds and awareness about homelessness

Réal Cloutier (left) appears with Raymond Troughton, of Siloam Mission, at a press conference to announce the third annual CEO Sleepout
Réal Cloutier (left) appears with Raymond Troughton, of Siloam Mission, at a press conference to announce the third annual CEO Sleepout.
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BY ANDREA BODIE
Winnipeg Health Region
Published Friday, September 13, 2013

The Winnipeg Health Region's chief operating officer will be sleeping out on the street later this month as part of an effort to raise awareness and money for Winnipeg's homeless.

Réal Cloutier will join more than 100 other city executives participating in the third annual CEO Sleepout, which takes place on Sept. 26 in the courtyard of 201 Portage Avenue, near Main Street.

Event organizers hope to raise more than $150,000 from the sleepout, with funds going to the Downtown Business Improvement Zone's Change for the Better program, which supports homeless employment programs like Siloam Mission's 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 participating in the event include Brian Scharfstein, President of Canadian Footwear; Bruce Martin, Associate Dean of the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Medicine; Darrell Jones, CEO of Manitoba Housing; James Pool, Inspector with the Winnipeg Police Service; Jan Sanderson, CEO of Healthy Child Manitoba; Stefano Grande, Executive Director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and Tom Malone, CEO of the Winnipeg Clinic.

Cloutier says he is ready for what promises to be a crisp evening on the street.

"I come from a camping family so I know how to prepare for something like this," Cloutier says, noting that he will bring a sleeping bag and dress in layers. "We are here to raise awareness about homelessness and we know that a one night sleep out is nowhere near what a homeless person experiences."

Last year, sleepout participants took a midnight tour of nearby shelters, which provided a bit of eye opener for those involved. Along with the surprisingly high numbers aiming to access the shelters and hearing their stories, Cloutier found it sobering to discover that even a blanket is helpful. Organizers say something similar is planned for this year.

In addition to raising money, the event is designed to raise awareness about important health issues within the community. Winnipeg's health gaps are larger than other Canadian cities. In lower income areas of Winnipeg, people are living with poorer health, more illnesses, chronic conditions and injuries throughout their life. Injuries are six times higher in lower income areas compared to higher incomes areas. People in lower income areas of Winnipeg are three times more likely to have diabetes. The number is even higher when you think about people who don't even realize they have diabetes.

Suicide attempts are eight times higher in the lowest income area of Winnipeg. People living in some areas of Winnipeg have nearly 19 years lower life expectancy than people living in other parts of the city. In disadvantaged areas, people are four times more likely to die before they reach 75 years of age than if they live in a different area of Winnipeg.

Cloutier says he hopes to help raise awareness about these sobering facts and start discussions around health equity so the community can work together to improve the delivery of care to those in need.

"No one person can help improve the health of a community but working together, we can begin to address some of these complex issues," he says. "Collaborative conversations and combined efforts can help us achieve greater health equity in Winnipeg. Otherwise, the health system and others are simply left to deal with the health consequences of these inequities."

The Winnipeg Health Region has created a health equity strategy with clear health outcome targets. Part of the strategy includes building and fostering relationships outside the traditional health system to enhance the potential for collaboration.

Cloutier says the homeless population is 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 reminds me of how much I have to be grateful for. It becomes a small way to get the message out that others have limited choices."

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