Mid-sized cities (populations 50,000-500,000) face unique challenges understanding and responding to homelessness given the increasing visibility of homelessness, and the demand by community members to 'do something' to maintain smaller suburban identities. As a result, mid-sized cities struggle to develop evidence-informed policies and practices that are appropriate for their resource and contexts. Often in these situations, law enforcement are called to manage the optics of homelessness, particularly in commercial areas. These interventions lead to temporary band-aid solutions that further marginalize and exclude people experiencing homelessness and further exacerbate systemic problems that criminalize poverty.
Two projects currently make up this research. In each project, we examine how different groups of people in mid-sized cities perceive homelessness, use of space, public safety, and community integration. Specifically, we engage with the following 3 stakeholder groups in mid-sized communities in British Columbia and in Ontario:
- people experiencing homelessness
- community representatives (i.e., business owners, social service providers, and other residents)
- and law enforcement
Both projects are guided by two overarching research questions:
- How, and in what ways, do the experiences and narratives surrounding homelessness, crime, and public safety converge and diverge among the stakeholder groups?
- And what opportunities for growth exist in mid-sized cities to promote community resilience?
Contentions and misperceptions around homelessness, use of space, and public safety can negatively impact community resilience in mid-sized cities - that is community harmony, sense of belonging, and ability to get along. Central to developing community resilience is the ability to create opportunities for inclusion, address sustainable, affordable housing, poverty reduction, and access to a continuum of healthcare and mental health resources.
Project #1: Rewriting the Narrative on Homelessness in Mid-Sized Canadian cities: A case study in British Columbia
This research examines issues surrounding homelessness and public safety in a mid-size urban community in British Columbia, Canada. This community was selected as a case study site due to its size (just under 100,000 people) and the substantial media attention the community drew around the increasing visibility and heightened politicized nature of the issue of homelessness.
In total, we spoke to 54 people across the three stakeholder groups:
- 18 people with lived experience of homelessness
- 14 other community representatives
- 16 police and bylaw officers
Based on the evidence provided in this research, we offer nine opportunities for change. Each of these opportunities calls on all stakeholders in mid-sized cities to build their community resiliency - that is, taking collective responsibility for the inequities groups, such as people experiencing homelessness, face - and building community capacity to withstand and overcome stressors and challenges and to learn from past stressors in order to strengthen future efforts in accordance with the human rights of all people, and with compassion, empowerment and positivity.
Read our blog: “They’re Not From Here”: Homelessness in Mid-Sized Cities
Project #2: From NIMBY to Neighbour: Homelessness across Mid-Sized Cities in Ontario
This project is a multi-tiered case study in three mid-size cities in Ontario. The project has partnered with the cities of Cambridge, Brantford and Wellington County to understand their community's perceptions and responses to homelessness. These cities face similar challenges around homelessness and are interested in developing an approach that is informed and guided through a human rights lens that maintains the rights and dignity of people experiencing homelessness and building community resiliency.
The project is a collaboration between 10 scholars at three universities, including Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Guelph, York University, and at the Canadian Addiction and Mental Health, and four community partners.
Through the project we have conducted 86 interviews across the three cities, speaking to people who are experiencing homelessness, service providers, community members, business owners, and first responders. Phase 3 - the brokered dialogue - is in the development stage, slated for 2023.
Download Infographic: From NIMBY to Neighbour: Homelessness across Mid-Sized Cities in Ontario
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