It is not with cheerfulness of heart that NSF has had to abandon its humanitarian missions abroad. The Egg for Life project, which was just about to be completed for the first year, was interrupted and the consequences of this pandemic were serious for both the organization and the children. We are worried about their nutritional status and the recovery will not be easy. Nevertheless, there is work to be done here to prevent food insecurity, especially among troubled young people, which NSF is taking under its wing thanks to the new HOPE project.
Why a homelessness prevention project by NSF?
According to the 10-year Plan of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, a Dream Plan (1) successful community plans are the products of an inclusive community procedure that involves key players in the local homelessness system, including people who have experienced this experience. When it comes to food, there is only one person who can help us understand their food insecurity problem, and that is the person themselves. To have an impact on nutritional status, an intervention must meet the specific nutritional needs of the individual. Outside, there are a host of resources to help homeless people, and they help to accomplish the next result, which is to fill the belly. For the majority of homeless people, the basic energy need is being met, and we are fortunate to have a large network of food banks. That's a lot. But health goes beyond calorie intake. That is what the HOPE project wants to address. In addition, there is isolation of certain groups of people, including youth, for whom food support services respond less well.
To overcome homelessness, we must act downstream and upstream: not only must we limit the damage and get the itinerant out of the street, but we must also close the front door as early as possible. Early detection and management of those most at risk can make all the difference. It is at this level that the HOPE program can act, both in prevention and in a curative context. The inability to eat is often one of the first triggers of unhealthy behaviours among troubled youth, such as substance abuse, but also a factor in criminalization. Ultimately, you end up flying to fill your belly. Or fall prey to bad dating.
When alcohol becomes the only source of calories available…
Alcohol dependence is an important factor on the road to homelessness among 25 to 49 year olds, but also among young people where it comes second. Hence the importance for the HOPE project to address young people under the age of 25 as a priority. Alcohol provides calories and heats up. Its use is pernicious because it becomes necessary for the survival of the itinerant. Is alcohol compensation, in its early stages, a cause or consequence of lack of calories? The HOPE program will provide better insight. It is an action research that will take shape by personally involving young people in the search for their alien autonomy, while developing skills, but also their dreams and passions.
Nutritional deficiencies related to homelessness
In addition, nutritional deficiencies are much more critical than is thought in the installation of mental health problems that are one of the factors that lead to the rejection of the individual by his or her family or community or workplace. According to a report by Dietitians of Canada (2), nutrition screening initiatives should be implemented in community programs and services for people with mental health disorders (including the homeless). In this regard, an analysis combining an epidemiological and interventional approach would help to identify dietary measures that can prevent the diversion to homelessness in this group of at-risk individuals with mental health problems.
A recent study in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry (3) found an important link between a deficiency of certain specific nutrients and the presence of diseases, including depression. They find that omega 3, B vitamins (including folate and B12), choline, iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D and several amino acids such as cysteine are essential to mental health. Not surprisingly, these nutrients are the most difficult to fill in the homeless population. In particular, B12 deficiencies are the most devastating because they create typical severe depressions that mimic dementia and promote significant suicidal tendencies and aggressive behaviours.
This is just one example of what can be prevented through the intervention of the HOPE project because in addition to the mental health impacts due to B12 which is totally and quickly reversible, there are so many consequences to malnutrition that it is impossible to name them all. For some key nutrients, the after-effects are not only temporary, but permanent, such as the effect of poor nutritional status on future fertility or the outcome of pregnancy (prematurity or risks of certain diseases such as autism, gestational diabetes etc). Young homeless women who become pregnant are unlikely to be successful at the right time through programs such as OLO, because to be aware of these services, you must first contact a doctor and make homelessness less likely.
Above all, the HOPE project is deed to give young people hope and to get them back on their feet in the search for autonomy. It is through collective cooking, sewing and other creative projects that young people will be able to learn skills while engaging socially. The approach to self-determination is recommended, so activities by youth and FOR young people are put in place.
The first HOPE project is ready to start in the Hochelaga-maisonneuve district, thanks to the collaboration of Espace Maker, a cooperative organization where young people can explore different ways to make themselves useful. You can already help by donating your time or making a donation.
We also need food donations and donations of clothing, fabrics and kitchen sewing accessories, and books. Any contribution will be appreciated! Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org to organize the collection of your donations.
(2) Davison KM, Ng E, Chandrasekera U, Seely C, Cairns J, Mailhot-Hall L, Sengmueller E, Jaques M, Palmer J and Grant-Moore J for Les Dietitians of Canada. Promoting mental health through healthy eating and nutrition care: summary. Toronto: Dietitians of Canada, 2012. Available at:www.dietitians.ca/mentalhealth.
(3) Sarris J, Logan AC, Akbaraly TN, Amminger GP, Balanz-Martinez V, et al. The International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. Lancet Psychiatry 2015; 2: 271–74. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(14)00051-0/abstract http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(14)00051-0