Homeless And Pregnant: Toronto Program Aims To Educate Homeless Women

05/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Over 300 women give birth in Toronto each year, and a team of five women, called the Homeless At-Risk Prenatal Program (HARP), have the job of caring for and educating them about raising children.

The Toronto Star profiles 22-year-old pregnant Renee who, with her boyfriend Cliff, live in a homeless shelter. This is her fifth pregnancy.

From The Toronto Star:

Nurses with the Homeless At-Risk Prenatal Program, or HARP, work to get homeless pregnant women off the street and into apartments, and teach them how to mother their babies.

When that's not possible - many women can't fully leave the street and the pull of addiction - the nurses settle for smaller successes: a woman coming into the shelter system long enough to finish her pregnancy; a baby delivered in a hospital and not in a cold, wet alley; an addict getting her fix not from alcohol but crack cocaine, a less harmful substance to a fetus.

The program is pragmatic -- not all women can be helped and those that can may often continue irresponsible behaviors. The nurses that writer Megan Ogilvie talked to all had emotional stories to tell.

Roughly 50 per cent of homeless women get pregnant, many within the first 12 months of becoming homeless. Women with a history of sexual abuse or with a developmental delay may not be aware of the need for constant contraception, something that is usually in short supply on the streets. And stress, poor nutrition and substance abuse can halt menses, which means some women don't realize they are pregnant for months.