Sunday, December 27, 2015

Trajectories of Women's Homelessness in Canada's Three Northern Territories

Repairing the Holes in the Net was a 2-year, multilevel action research project designed to inform the development of culturally appropriate and gender-specific services for northern women who are homeless or marginally housed and who face mental health and substance use concerns. The study was designed to learn about the barriers and supports experienced by homeless women in the North when accessing mental health care, shelter, housing and other services; and to inform the work of northern service providers and policy advocates in a position to implement adjustments in their praxis.

This article describes the trajectories of women's service access and their ideas for service improvement from 61 qualitative, semi-structured interviews conducted with homeless women in Whitehorse, Yukon (YT), Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (NT), and Iqualit, Nunavut (NU).

Unresolved trauma, poverty and social exclusion, inability to find and maintain housing and ineffective services emerged as interconnected and multifaceted challenges related to women's service engagement. In the face of these challenges, women displayed significant resilience and resistance, and offered important ideas for service improvement.

The 4 interconnected systemic challenges identified in the research, coupled with specific ideas for change cited by the resilient homeless women interviewed, offer points of entry to improve service policy and delivery. Implementing trauma-informed approaches emerged as a key example of how access to, and quality of, services could be improved for homeless women in the North.

Table II. Summary of services used by northern homeless women interviewed, by territory
Number of services reported
Type of service (n, %)
  Counselling for mental health or addictions concerns46 (75%)15 (75%)13 (65%)18 (86%)
  Family violence shelter44 (72%)18 (90%)8 (40%)18 (86%)
  Income Support40 (66%)7 (35%)16 (80%)17 (81%)
  Housing Authority or other property management39 (64%)12 (60%)12 (60%)15 (71%)
  Social service (e.g. Family and Child Services)38 (62%)14 (70%)13 (65%)11 (52%)
  Homelessness shelter33 (54%)9 (45%)12 (60%)12 (57%)
  Police/justice29 (48%)10 (50%)8 (40%)11 (52%)
  Other community-based resource28 (46%)1 (5%)9 (45%)18 (86%)
  Food-based service20 (33%)2 (10%)3 (15%)15 (71%)
  Educational programming17 (28%)1 (5%)10 (50%)6 (29%)
  Hospital16 (26%)4 (20%)4 (20%)8 (38%)
  Indigenous cultural or wellness service15 (25%)3 (15%)1 (5%)11 (52%)
  Primary health care/nurses station14 (23%)3 (15%)7 (35%)4 (19%)
  In-patient addiction or mental health treatment (in Territory)11 (18%)N/A6 (30%)5 (24%)
  Alcoholics Anonymous11 (18%)2 (10%)4 (20%)5 (24%)
  In-patient addiction or mental health treatment (out of Territory)10 (16%)5 (25%)1 (5%)4 (19%)
  Service for disability support9 (15%)1 (5%)0 (0%)8 (38%)
  Harm reduction service8 (13%)N/AN/A8 (38%)
  Alcohol or drug detox7 (11%)N/A1 (5%)6 (29%)
  Church5 (8%)0 (0%)3 (15%)2 (10%)
  Legal Aid5 (8%)3 (15%)1 (5%)1 (5%)
  Crisis line2 (3%)2 (10%)0 (0%)0 (0%)

Below:  Four overarching themes emerged from women's descriptions of the trajectory of their homelessness and their experience of accessing services: (a) unresolved trauma, (b) poverty and social exclusion, (c) inability to find and maintain housing and (d) ineffective services. Participants described how a number of vicious cycles made it difficult to find housing, food security and to heal emotionally


Full article at:

By:   Schmidt R1Hrenchuk C2Bopp J3Poole N4.
1BC Centre of Excellence for Women's Health, Vancouver, BC, Canada;
2Yukon Status of Women Council, Whitehorse, YT, Canada.
3Four Worlds Centre for Development Learning, Cochrane, AB, Canada.
4BC Centre of Excellence for Women's Health, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

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