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Photo exhibit highlights ‘dehumanizing’ problems from being diabetic and homeless

When Matt Larsen was homeless, he said he was always grateful to have a warm meal — but sometimes that food would wreak havoc on his blood sugar.

Larsen’s photos are being shown in Calgary as part of a unique photo exhibit highlighting the additional struggles homeless people with diabetes face.

“There’s a whole bevy of added difficulties to diabetes management when you’re homeless,” Matt Larsen said. “I can’t even think of one time I tested my blood sugar while I was homeless.”

Larsen was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes as well as bipolar disorder and cannabis use disorder before entering the shelter system. He’s now one-year sober, living in a rent-geared-to-income home, and working to contribute to a number of research projects relating to his lived experience, like this exhibit.

‘Lack of autonomy’

“One of the biggest problems with being homeless is just the lack of choice or the lack of autonomy. You can’t choose what you eat, can’t choose when to take your meds, stuff like that is really, I don’t know, it’s kind of dehumanizing,” Larsen said.

Carbohydrate-heavy food — like bread, potatoes, rice or pasta — is an inexpensive and filling option that often dominates plates at shelters.

But for a diabetic, carbs mean blood sugar spikes and the need to respond with insulin.

Diabetes requires daily monitoring and management, so food is just one of a long list of issues like access to medication, safe medication storage, or foot care, that arise for those in precarious housing situations. 

The photo exhibit highlights the struggles homeless people with diabetes experience. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Endocrinologist Dr. David Campbell of the University of Calgary started the project after seeing a number of homeless people visit the ER repeatedly for diabetic issues, like high or low blood sugars, or foot issues that require surgery or amputation.

He asked people to use cameras to document how being without a home has impacted them.

“The purpose is really to give a platform for people to have a voice who otherwise wouldn’t, to share their narratives and their stories,” he said.

The Home Sweet Home(less) exhibit will be on display at the Core shopping mall in downtown Calgary until Friday.

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CBC | Health News