Selkirk College Research Project Receives Green Light to Explore Regional Response to Homelessness
Researchers, faculty and students at Selkirk College are embarking on an extensive three-year project to address rural homelessness that brings together diverse community partners with the aim to improve the well-being of those experiencing homelessness across the West Kootenay.
Spurred by the recently announced $360,000 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the project is a result of bringing together 17 supporting partners that includes local government, social service agencies, health care providers and post-secondary partners. The Bridging Rural Homelessness and Well-Being: A Sustainable and Collaborative Regional Response social innovation project is being led by the team at Selkirk Innovates and will ultimately result in evidence-based decision making and coordinated regional actions to better support the marginalized population.
“The complex issues surrounding homelessness in our region are not community-specific and it requires a broader lens to provide the needed improvement to well-being of this vulnerable population,” says Jayme Jones, the project director at Selkirk Innovates. “Securing SSHRC funding is highly competitive, and we are grateful for the financial resources needed to carry forward this important project. The strength of this project is formed around the foundation of strong regional partnerships, which points to the urgent need for this type of rural context deep dive.”
Social service organizations in the West Kootenay have reported the incidence of homelessness in the region is on the rise and made worse by the colliding crises that include housing, overdose/toxic drugs, pandemic and extreme weather. Response to support marginalized populations currently lacks a collaborative regional approach, which only adds additional challenges to organizations with limited resources.
Partnerships Fuel Foundation of Project
In preparing the grant proposal, Jones and her team have worked diligently to bring together supporting partners that include: City of Trail, City of Nelson, City of Castlegar, Regional District of Central Kootenay, Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, ANKORS, Nelson Community Services, Trail United Church, Interior Health, Kootenay Career Development Society, Greater Trail Community Skills Centre, Rural Empowered Drug Users Network, North Island College, Career Development Society (Trail), Castlegar and District Community Services Society, Nelson CARES Society/Nelson Committee on Homelessness and the Castlegar Food Bank.
All three West Kootenay municipalities committed $7,500 each to the project, providing the ability to secure additional funding for three student internships through the non-profit national research organization Mitacs. The interns will be student nurses who will conduct street outreach through the summer months for three years starting in 2023. With partner cash contributions, in-kind contributions and the SSHRC/Mitacs funding, the entire project is an investment of more than $650,000 over three years.
“This project will make an enormous difference in our community,” says Morag Carter, executive director of the Greater Trail Community Skills Centre. “We have built a broad alliance around the crisis of homelessness in our community, with the aim of building additional supportive housing for the most vulnerable, but we are only just beginning to understand the full complexity of the issue. This project will enable us to understand the full extent of the underlying factors behind homelessness in the region and enable us to better identify effective solutions for our community and for the region.”
The core project team consists of Selkirk College faculty, student research interns and a lived experience consultant. The complexities of the issue requires an approach that breaks free of silos. It will convene a regional team made up of project partners, which will act as a living lab so that community partners can play a vital role in the design and conduct of research. In the broader scope, current Selkirk College initiatives such as the Student Outreach Street Nursing Program and other course-specific projects will be incorporated into the project.
Regional Approach Going Forward
Using participatory action research methodology with a case study approach, the work will include annual surveys of service users and service providers to monitor evolving needs and access, literature reviews, meetings with stakeholders, an annual West Kootenay Homelessness Response Summit, and strengthening of community relationships.
“We’ve waited a long time for a regional approach to housing, homelessness, poverty, mental health and addictions,” says Deb McIntosh, Coordinator of the Castlegar Community Harvest Food Bank. “We recognize that we have been working in silos for far too long. We look forward to long term solutions for those most vulnerable in our communities throughout the region. We appreciate the efforts of Selkirk College and all involved.”
The project will conclude in 2025, with ongoing updates provided to community leaders and social service organizations. The aim is to support evidence-based decision-making, strengthen relationships for sustainable regional collaboration and response actions, build regional homelessness response capacity by mobilizing college resources, and disseminate lessons learned in the region and beyond.
The expected benefits of the project include improved well-being for those experiencing homelessness due to coordinated regional actions that respond to evolving needs. Service organizations will be bolstered by additional capacity through Selkirk College and strengthened relationships that support more regional coordination. Selkirk College students will benefit by participating in vitally relevant research while gaining experience that can be brought into future careers.
“The work KCDS does—across all our programs and service areas—is increasingly helped or hindered by the security of our client’s housing,” says Jocelyn Carver, executive director of the Kootenay Career Development Society. “It is much harder for people to find and keep work—and to move toward career goals and financial independence—if you don’t know where you will safely lay your head, do your laundry or make meals for your kids the next week or the week after that. The collaborative and regional approach embedded in this project is going to be foundational in its success. This is truly a project where the sum will be greater than its individual parts. We can’t wait to get started.”