The United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFL&A), Kingston Community Health Centres, and several other organizations have announced the launch of a Portable Outreach Care Hub (PORCH), which will provide vital services to the region’s vulnerable populations in a mobile and accessible manner.
Through a retrofitted recreational vehicle (RV), the PORCH will provide outreach, counselling, and select physical and mental health services, offering a direct means by which providers can reach people at risk of or experiencing homelessness. The PORCH was officially unveiled to members of the media at an event on Tuesday afternoon, Jul. 19, 2022.
“[The PORCH] initiative is an important addition to the collaborative outreach efforts by community partners to serve some of [the] most vulnerable members of our community,” said Meghan O’Leary, Director of Clinical Services at Kingston Community Health Centres, “particularly those who are homeless or unhoused, at risk of [Hepatitis] C, and people who use substances.”
O’Leary continued, “This initiative marks a step forward in integrated efforts by partners to meet people where they’re at, to tailor services and supports to better engage clients and meet their unique needs. This means things like removing barriers to transportation, improving access by having a drop-in model… and leveraging technology like virtual care to connect people with further health care supports and services.”
Bhavana Varma, President and CEO of the United Way of KFL&A, said the need for a PORCH was identified during the pandemic. “It really has helped us focus on where we really need to put our efforts collectively, and that is the vulnerable population: people who are vulnerable, people who are homeless, people who are unhoused, people who need special care. We’ve thought long and hard through the pandemic, and before the pandemic, [about how we can] really meet the needs of the very specific populations that we serve.”
Through discussion amongst a number of community partners, the need for a mobile care unit was recognized, and an RV was purchased in March 2022 and retrofitted to serve the needs of the project. The PORCH officially launched this month and has already begun providing its vital services to members of the community, Varma explained.
“This RV came to light [because] another community had done it for a very different type of project; it was more about youth in rural areas and counselling, and we started to talk about it with our partners,” Varma said. “It is really remarkable because we will actually be serving people where they’re at… rather than expecting them to go to a clinic, to find the time, to find the transportation… We’ll be able to meet their needs right there, as they need it.”
In terms of the specific services that will be provided through the PORCH, O’Leary said, “[We] will be offering services such as health education, [sexually transmitted infection or STI] testing, Hepatitis C testing and treatment, wound care, harm reduction supplies and education, [and] naloxone training kits.”
The PORCH will travel to parks, encampments, local gatherings, events and festivals, and rural areas to provide its services to those who otherwise would not have access. Inside the RV are counselling rooms, a group room, and a space for clinical care, as well as technology to connect people to remote health care providers.
The services available through PORCH will be offered by a number of community organizations, including KFL&A Public Health, Family & Children’s Services, Addiction & Mental Health Services, Street Health Centre, and Kingston Community Health Centres. Organizers said the PORCH will be expanded to include additional service providers “as needed.”
While a variety of services will be offered onboard the PORCH, O’Leary confirmed that things like consumption and treatment services will continue to be offered at their original locations. “No safe injection or consumption treatment services [will be available onboard], those will still be run out of the Integrated Care Hub,” she relayed.
A number of dignitaries were on hand for Tuesday’s event, with Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson calling the announcement “an exciting moment.”
“[This is] a revolutionary way to be able to serve our most vulnerable residents… We always think about ‘How can we get our vulnerable residents to come and access the services that they need?’ Here we have a way to be able to deliver those services to them,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen, whose federal Liberals provided some of the funding for the PORCH through the Reaching Home homelessness strategy, spoke about the ways his government has sought to address issues related to homelessness.
“The federal government set out to establish a fund… a $4-billion strategy nationwide that would help to combat homelessness in Canada,” Gerretsen said. “But we knew that we couldn’t do it on our own… We needed the people running the services [to] decide exactly where the money needed to go. That’s why we partnered with agencies such as the United Way here in Kingston. To see this as one of the things that the United Way has put money towards truly is rewarding.”
According to O’Leary, 70 per cent of the startup costs for the PORCH were provided through the Reaching Home program, while the other 30 per cent came from provincial Ministry of Health program funding at KCHC. “Operating costs are heavily supported by MoH funding and they are hoping for partner collaborations to help offset costs of ongoing operations,” added Pash.