A new research study in northern Ontario is hoping to not only find ways to better understand youth who are experiencing homelessness in northeastern Ontario, but also, finding ways to keep it from ever happening.
Kevin Fitzmaurice, research director of Laurentian University's Centre for Social Justice and Policy, told Sudbury.com even one night in a shelter can be devastating to a young person. That’s why the research study the centre is currently engaged in is focused on prevention, not reaction, with their new longitudinal qualitative study.
The research will be a part of a nationwide project called Making the Shift , an organization which funds and conducts research to prevent and end youth homelessness in Canada.
Northeastern Ontario-based portion of the research project is called On the Move and will be run by Fitzmaurice and the centre’s director, Carol Kauppi.
Fitzmaurice, who is also a reconciliation co-ordinator at Laurentian University and a longstanding board member with the Native People of Sudbury Development Corporation, told Sudbury.com they are more than one year into the three-year study, but a little thing called a pandemic got in their way.
But with the ability to conduct research in a safe way once again in place, Fitzmaurice said the research will begin again.
“We are hoping to interview 120 youth from Sudbury and the Timmins and Cochrane,” said Fitzmaurice. “And the intention is to really listen and to understand their experiences, so as to best inform and change policy and program development, but also to change attitudes around how people see and understand youth experiencing homelessness.”
He said as part of the work, they will be building relationships; important not just for the best information, but because the interviews will take place multiple times - an average of once every six months with each participant - and last about an hour each time.
“And so that's the work, that's hard research, because there's a lot of mobility in this community, and there's also, sadly, death in the community.”
To ensure that the work is not only done properly, but in a way that is trauma-informed — ensuring that the participant does not feel re-traumatized when reliving their experiences for the researchers — the centre will be relying on community partners in all the areas. Researchers will be working with outreach and direct support workers, as well as creating an advisory committee made up of youth who have experienced homelessness.
The objective of the study is to generate new strategies for detecting risk, intervening early, and supporting sustainable exits from homelessness amongst Indigenous and non-Indigenous (Francophone and Anglophone) youth in urban, rural and remote communities of northeastern Ontario. More than 11 community organizations will assist with recruitment, follow-up, data collection and knowledge mobilization. Six focus groups with service providers in study communities will centre on viable ways to develop a coordinated system of services to address youth homelessness.
There is also the focus on those who are disproportionately affected by homelessness in the north: Indigenous People.
Indigenous people face multiple barriers in accessing housing that is safe, affordable, and appropriate, said Fitzmaurice, including systemic racism, poverty, lack of access to culturally appropriate social services and housing, discrimination, addiction, mental health problems, and intergenerational trauma resulting from experiences with residential schools and the child welfare system.
As well, for both the research and the housing solutions, Fitzmaurice said there is an important focus on culturally sensitive supports, as well as using the traditional practices to ensure that homelessness solutions are about more than accessing housing and could include attention to well-being, cultural connection, and healing.
When the research is completed, the centre will be comparing the information with an existing 2018 data set, a database of 512 youth (13-24) from the Sudbury/Manitoulin, Timmins and Cochrane Districts living with forms of homelessness in 2018.
“We're going to be generating and building upon data we already have and it will be compelling in that sense, because it'll be not only longitudinal in the next three years, but it'll be drawing on existing data we have from the last five to 10 years,” said Fitzmaurice. “So we'll really be able to see some trends emerging in that regard.”
He said that while there has been some bumps in the road, “we're getting more momentum and we're reaching out more and getting more people to participate.”
They are looking for young people who have experienced any part of what he calls the “spectrum of risk of homelessness,” which includes being precariously housed, or absolute homelessness, and the research will hopefully point to prevention, or early and sustainable exits. “Because one of the things we know, in the literature, is that even one night in a shelter for young people can be devastating to their ability to recover and exit.”
You can find out more about the study here.
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com. She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized, including the Black, Indigenous, newcomer and Francophone communities, as well as 2SLGBTQ+ and issues of the downtown core.