A specialist physiotherapy program is providing support for women experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The service is unique because it’s based in the community, rather than a hospital, and staffed by people with a long history of working with people experiencing disadvantage.
Janice Campbell, a physiotherapist at cohealth Central City Clinic near Queen Victoria Market is one of these people. While physiotherapy is usually associated with the treatment of back and limb pain, the vast majority of Janice’s clients are seeking help for incontinence and sexual health issues related to past trauma.
“These are women who have had very hard lives, and their lives are made even harder due to their poor physical health and living circumstances,” says Janice.
“If you’re not homeless and have bowel or urinary incontinence, or you have a prolapse, it’s bad. But if you’re dealing with those things and you’re living on the streets or in a rooming house, it’s horrific,” she says.
“It adds to the stigma and stereotype about people experiencing homelessness – that they smell, that they’re dirty, that they choose not to take care of their personal hygiene. Often it’s because they have no control over their hygiene.”
Due to the vulnerability of the people she works with, and the high rates of sexual abuse and history of trauma in her client group, Janice’s work is a mix of counselling and physiotherapy.
“We understand that physical examinations, and especially vaginal examinations, can be very triggering for people who’ve experienced sexual trauma”, says Janice. “When people make the decision to get help, we need to make sure there are empathetic and non-judgmental services and practitioners available.”
“One of my clients who had female genital mutilation went to a hospital and they did a vaginal examination on her first appointment. She was so traumatised – she never went back. It took her a long time to get over that.”
Find more information on cohealth Homelessness Support Services.