[HPN] `Street nurse' fills big shoes

Graeme Bacque gbacque@idirect.com
Tue, 18 Apr 2000 07:41:48 -0400

April 18, 2000  the Toronto Star

`Street nurse' fills big shoes
Seniors group honours Toronto advocate for homeless

By Nicholas Keung
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

Toronto street nurse Cathy Crowe believes that small acts, when multiplied 
by millions of people, can transform the world.

That is what motivates her to travel tirelessly around the city as an 
advocate for the homeless, those who might otherwise be forgotten.

Crowe, who always wears a big smile, is colloquially known as a ``street 
nurse'' and she insists on using that term rather than nurse practitioner 
or community health nurse because ``it makes a very strong point.''

``It is obscene that as a nurse in Canada, my specialty is homelessness,'' 
said Crowe, who, along with the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, has 
unveiled an underworld of homelessness beneath this country's prosperous 

``Lately I've been asking myself, `Am I still doing nursing?' I now spend 
more time standing in front of groups making speeches, organizing vigils to 
respond to homeless deaths, and lobbying the federal government . . . as 
opposed to, for example, (treating) diabetes.''

Crowe was the guest speaker at the Canadian Pensioners Concerned (Ontario 
Division) annual general meeting yesterday, where she received the first 
Jean Woodsworth Award for her advocacy work.

Social activist Woodsworth, a former president of the pensioner group and a 
board member of the United Church, helped organize the so-called gray power 
revolt that persuaded the federal government to maintain the universality 
of old age pensions.

The award commemorates the life-long compassion for social justice of 
Woodsworth, who passed away at 82 in 1995.

While Crowe started her career 20 years ago working for two prominent 
physicians in a downtown bank tower, working on the streets has exposed her 
to the true colour of the homeless problem in the city.

But it took the 1998 ice storm in Eastern Ontario and Quebec to shock her 
into realizing that homelessness is a national disaster.

``I was overcome with grief and nausea as this truth hit home,'' she said.
That awakening prompted her and 10 other people - a housing advocate, an 
AIDS worker, a stockbroker, a developer, two priests, a lawyer, a housing 
professor and a formerly homeless man and woman - to form the Toronto 
Disaster Relief Committee that in turn prompted the federal government and 
Toronto and other cities to declare homelessness a national disaster.

``Housing is a prerequisite for health and it is purely and simply the lack 
of housing that creates the ill health I see every day,'' Crowe noted.

More than a year after the homeless emergency was declared, Toronto's 
hostels are still filled to capacity and the number of children who go 
through the shelter system is expected to keep rising from 6,000 this year 
to 7,300 by 2002.

``Our front-line workers report two to four deaths of homeless people per 

``Homeless deaths are not simply about freezing to death, just as death by 
bullet is not the only cause of death in war,'' Crowe explained.

``It's going to get much worse, but the resistance and fight for housing is 
going to be stronger than we have ever, ever seen in this country.''