Today’s blog focuses on how individuals who are homeless and vulnerably housed (for example, those living in rooming houses) create a sense of belonging and socialize within their neighbourhoods. The research comes from my recently defended PhD thesis.

Neighbourhoods can play an important role in the lives of homeless and vulnerably housed individuals. People might receive support from different places throughout their neighbourhoods, such as drop-in centres and community health centres. Accessing services is particularly important for homeless individuals, as it has been linked to successfully exiting homelessness. However, changes in the neighbourhood can have negative impacts on homeless and vulnerably housed individuals. For example, when low-income properties are purchased by individuals with higher incomes, this gentrification can make the neighbourhood unaffordable for low-income individuals, leading them to move to new neighbourhoods. As well, the low-income individuals who are able to stay may feel less of a connection with their changing neighbourhood.

My research recognized the importance of neighbourhoods and focused on factors that promoted or hindered community integration among a group of homeless and vulnerably housed adults in Ottawa. This research examined two aspects of community integration:

  1. Psychological integration, or the sense of belonging to one’s neighbourhood; and
  2. Social integration, or how an individual engages with others in their neighbourhood.

Community integration is an important topic to study since increases in community integration have been linked to increased personal well-being.

What was my specific research aim?

I was interested in what individual (e.g., age, gender, physical health functioning), housing (e.g., whether an individual was homeless or vulnerably housed, rating of housing quality), and neighbourhood (e.g., neighbourhood unemployment rate, if individuals think their neighbourhoods have a positive or negative impact) variables influence psychological and social integration over a two-year period. I used both quantitative (numerical data) and qualitative (the participants’ own words) methods to help me address my research goals. The data for this project came from the Health and Housing in Transition (HHiT) study, a five-year study conducted in Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver that was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. I only used data from the Ottawa site. More information on the study can be accessed here.

Results from my quantitative studies showed that individuals with high levels of social support consistently reported high levels of both psychological and social integration. Interestingly, social support was the only factor that was strongly related to social integration, as no other variables impacted social integration in the same way. Several other factors were related to psychological integration. Older individuals, individuals living in high quality housing (including those living in shelters), and individuals residing in neighbourhoods perceived as having positive impacts on them all reported higher levels of psychological integration.

Results from my qualitative study found that individuals with higher levels of integration were more likely to have the kind of housing they wanted and were generally satisfied with their housing. In contrast, some individuals with lower integration, residing in both shelters and their own housing, described the chaos and disorder in their housing. Looking at neighbourhood factors, individuals with lower integration spoke about the negative influence of the drug use, violence, and crime around them. As a result, many individuals with lower integration did not feel safe in their neighbourhoods. Individuals with higher integration generally reported that they liked their neighbours and neighbourhoods. In particular, they liked the quietness of their neighbourhoods and the proximity to resources and parks.

new affordable housing developments should be located in areas where individuals feel safe and supported.
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So what do these results mean?

It is clear that homeless and vulnerably housed individuals with high levels of social support are more likely to feel part of their neighbourhood and socialize with their neighbours. Therefore, community agencies should continue to recognize the importance of social support when developing rehousing plans. The results also highlight the importance of age, and housing and neighbourhood quality in developing bonds to one’s neighbourhood. It may be important to reach out to younger individuals to promote community integration, since an older age was related to higher psychological integration. As well, housing of high overall quality located in a safe neighbourhood should be sought when considering locations for rehousing individuals. This has implications for policymakers, since the location of new affordable housing developments should be located in areas where individuals feel safe and supported. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, particularly with the poor stock of good quality affordable housing available to low-income Canadians.

Facilitating community integration can lead to a sense of belonging and social interactions for individuals who may not otherwise have such opportunities. By doing so, homeless and vulnerably housed individuals may find housing in a supportive and safe neighbourhood.