U of L researcher to play key role in national homelessness initiative

University of Lethbridge researcher Dr. Yale Belanger will play a key role in a national initiative that will gather information on the state of homelessness in Canada and will disseminate that knowledge to front-line providers.

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness was recently created through a $2.5 million investment from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, which promotes and assists research and scholarship in the social sciences and humanities.

The Observatory's work will be particularly relevant in Alberta, as recent province-wide flooding may increase the number of individuals who could be homeless.

"Homelessness remains a massive national issue, even though communities across the country have made great strides in reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness," said Belanger, a researcher/professor in Native American Studies and the Faculty of Health Sciences. "We know that homelessness is usually the result of the cumulative impact of a number of factors, rather than a single cause."

Belanger said individual challenges or a traumatic event like flooding, compounded by structural factors like income, affordable housing and discrimination, or failures in a system designed to help vulnerable people, can render people homeless.

In Canada approximately 200,000 people are homeless each year, and about 30,000 people homeless on any given night.

In Calgary, there were more than 3100 people counted in January 2012 as part of a homeless person census, according to recent data published in "The State of Homelessness in Canada." A web link attached to full report is included, below.

Counts taken in October, 2012 showed Edmonton recording more than 2100, Red Deer nearly 280 while Lethbridge recorded 99 individuals.

Belanger added that Aboriginal people are particularly at risk, as are low-income workers and, increasingly, families.

Belanger said one of the key goals of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness group is to work as a team to devise best practices that can be housed in the Observatory for use by anyone – researchers, community organizations and policymakers.

"More than 25 researchers are involved, plus many more local, provincial and national advocacy groups and support networks, so we feel quite confident about being able to gather a large amount of information quickly, and which we know everyone can share."

The group won't be simply researching the topic – Belanger said they will be on the ground, translating research into action wherever possible.

"We are expected to participate to help people create response and prevention strategies. I am very pleased to be working with the City of Lethbridge and other agencies in our community and the province."

"Though efforts like Social Housing in Action and the Vibrant Lethbridge Poverty Reduction Strategy group, our community is working really hard to put in place effective systems to reduce homelessness, as are similar groups in Calgary and Edmonton."

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness is housed at York University and is led by Dr. Stephen Gaetz, professor and Associate Dean, Education. Gaetz was recently in Lethbridge as a keynote speaker at a two-day conference on homelessness issues.

A copy of "The State of Homelessness in Canada" is available at these websites: