Taking it to the streets: Volunteer medics take over where the health care system leaves off Paula Bialski

Guelph, Ontario, Jan 9 2002 — Matti Paquiz, a 28-year-old street medic from London, Ontario, saw a homeless man die last week. Paquiz and six other members of the London Street Medic (LSM) team missed him by 40 minutes.

"Initially we said we should have stayed out there for one more hour, but I try not to lay blame on myself — it's defeatist. I have so much compassion for our friends, but sometimes things like that happen, and it's not our fault."

Friends. That's how the London Street Medics feel towards people on the street. A non-profit, volunteer group of first-aid providers that started after the Quebec City summit last April, the LSM provide basic medical help to those without access to the health care system. They aren't alone. There are approximately 60 other street-medic groups scattered across Canada.

"We run into low-income neighbourhoods with food, water, and hot beverages, and we try to form a trust with homeless brothers and sisters. Our friends will get into fights so we patch things up. Sometimes it's a night run. We usually go three times a week, every week," explained Paquiz.

In London, Ontario

LSM established a base clinic in a warehouse space in downtown London, which has room for 30 people. From their base, they began a front-line medical clinic and started doing water drop-offs, needle awareness programs and community kitchens.

The members of LSM aren't all doctors, but that doesn't mean they're unskilled. Street medics first have to go through proper instruction which consists of 20 hours of course work. Training sessions are held over four days in six hour segments. LSM also highly recommends that participants have certification in Advanced First Aid.

Paquiz, who has formal medical training and interns at the London Area Hospital, doesn't find the LSM overwhelming because he loves what he does.

"We don't need validation, but when people say thanks, it's great. As long as they feel comfortable talking to us, we feel good. We've seen a lot of the devastation [caused by oppression]," he said.


These medics don't only stick to the London streets. LSM hits the road during protests. Paquiz explains that being a street medic at a protest is totally different than his regular job in London.

"Basically we get right into the protests, or whatever is going on at that big summit, and we set up a clinic. We work with local collectives and send street medics out to run with the marches," he said.

Yet the volunteers on duty never get actively involved with the protests. When they wear a red cross, their focus is health and safety.

"We are there to sustain that movement, and sustain that resistance," Paquiz explained. "Four of us were just in Ottawa and three were at Toronto's big march. There are medics that participate in the action, but when we wear a red cross we don't protest."

Despite their lack of direct protest involvement, LSM is politically left-leaning. "Sure we wouldn't go to a heritage protest for example, but we would go to an anti-racist protest — but we would treat everyone. Even the racists, if they consented. It's never one-sided in that way. We have a respect for a diversity of tactics. I would probably still treat a police officer if they asked for our help. But I think being an activist is a good perspective to have when doing this kind of work," he said.

The health care system

Paquiz feels that part of the necessity for LSM is the provincial and federal government's neglect of the health care system.

"They've put health care at dire straits. We need more people on the streets doing this kind of support, and not treating these people as junkies, but supporting to kick their habit," said Paquiz.

He is now trying to start an LSM branch in a number of other Canadian cities.

The key to the organization is that it is non-confrontational and non-violent. And as much as Paquiz has seen in his life, he says it will never compare to what the people on the streets have gone through.

"Bottom line is that these people are stronger than you, me and anyone who's lived a peaceful life. These people are the eyes and ears on the city streets. If we want to know what's going on, we should ask them because they've been through it all," concluded Paquiz.


Paula Bialski Ontarion, "Taking it to the streets: Volunteer medics take over where the health care system leaves off." The Manitoban 2002-01-09. https://web.archive.org/web/20110904071844/http://www.archives.themanitoban.com/2001-2002/0109/features_1.shtml

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