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New community clinic opens its doors in downtown Halifax

by Stephanie Taylor

A new downtown clinic, staffed by students, aims to help vulnerable street people in many ways.
A new downtown clinic, staffed by students, aims to help vulnerable street people in many ways.

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) - It takes more than providing overnight shelter when it comes to helping Halifax’s most vulnerable population.   

People who are homeless or in difficult situations are oftentimes stuck trying to navigate the confusing systems of housing and community services to find support, says Dr. Jeff Karabanow, professor of social work at Dalhousie University. 

He recently co-founded the Dalhousie School of Social Work Community Clinic, a pilot project which opened its doors in downtown Halifax last month. 

The clinic, staffed by students, aims to provide individuals with reliable access to a variety of services, such as case management and basic counselling, to help them through the tough times.

“We’re open to anybody," Karabanow said in a recent interview. “Whatever it is that you need some support with we can do together.” 

After years of working with homeless youth in cities across Canada and helping facilitate Out of the Cold, Halifax’s overnight winter emergency shelter, he noticed the need for a place where people could go to receive ongoing assistance. 

“We want (the clinic) to mould to whatever the community feels we can be," Karabanow said. 

Unlike other outreach centres, the new clinic operates on a walk-in basis and does not require visitors to be a part of another program in order to receive support, he says. 

During its pilot phase the clinic's immediate focus is relationship-building and helping visitors feel comfortable with the staff and setting. 

He describes that he wants community members to feel they can trust clinic staff and hopes the "space becomes a sanctuary." 

Funded mainly through Dalhousie, the clinic relies heavily on partnerships with other organizations, such as Dal Legal Aid, ISIS, Mobile Outreach Street Health and the Department of Community Services, in order to provide people with the support they need. 

So far, the clinic has ten active cases. 

The clinic is currently open three days a week, operating out of the basement in St. Paul's Anglican Church on Argyle Street.

With more funding Karabanow plans to offer comprehensive staff training and resources to provide on-site clinical services, such as mental health counselling. 

“One thing that’s really lacking in the community is a place where people can receive therapeutic support,” he says.

“Mental health (issues) are deeply pervasive within populations that are struggling for stability."

Besides its benefit to the community, the clinic was also established to act as a field placement for students to work with clients in a more collaborative structure, Karabanow explains. 

Students will begin to complete full-time placements at the clinic beginning in the fall. 

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