In 2022, the Research for Social Change Lab’s (RSCL) Building from Experience research team began a project with the goal of increasing local understanding of the systems that house and shelter people experiencing homelessness in the city of Peterborough, Ontario.

This work is ongoing, but we shared our initial findings with our community in the form of a zine called “Get In Line” in the summer of 2022. 

To learn about Peterborough’s Coordinated Access and emergency shelter systems, we consulted public documents and checked our findings through informal interviews with key stakeholders. “Get In Line” documents everything we learned through this process.

Our goal was to gather information that is publicly available elsewhere in one place and make it more easily digestible for service users, housing sector professionals, and community advocates.

In this blog, we will discuss the goals of the zine, our lessons learned and our plans for future issues.

Why Develop a Zine?

One of our guiding values at the RSCL is creating joy. However, our subject matter – mostly housing and homelessness – often leaves us feeling discouraged. To combat this, we try to prioritize fun and creativity in our research processes wherever possible.

One method we tried was running a series of arts-based team-building exercises. Through this experience, our team developed a desire to continue prioritizing creative modes of producing research.

However, our reasoning for developing a zine went further. We wanted our research to be accessible and useful to our community, and that meant thinking beyond the traditional means of dissemination (ie: research article). We chose to make a zine because we thought it would be the most accessible format and that it would make our research feel more approachable and relatable to our audience.

We envision the “Get In Line” zine as a primer for people who are looking to improve the systems that house and shelter people experiencing homelessness. 

What we Learned

"Get In Line” was just the first step in a process to better understand how Coordinated Access is being rolled out in Peterborough, but we’re already learning a lot.  

Here are some of our key learnings:

1. Eligibility requirements and lack of housing inventory greatly constrain what a Coordinated Access system can offer people:

One of the most revealing sections of our zine is a two-page spread listing all the housing units and support services that our community currently dedicates to its “By Name Priority List”. We received the resource inventory from the City of Peterborough. The resource inventory document made the barriers of the Coordinated Access system clearer to our team. To highlight this finding for our readers, we added annotations to this document by hand to make sure they understood the rules and eligibility criteria that shape who can and can’t access them. We also created four personas and showed how each of them would be assessed by the Coordinated Access system, and what resources they might be offered to illustrate how eligibility requirements constrain access to housing.

2. There is a hunger for this kind of information in our community:

Our zine has been appreciated by a wide range of people in our community — especially among local service providers. Agencies have requested several copies to keep at their offices for staff and visitors. We’ve had to keep printing copies to keep up. 

This suggests to us that there is a hunger for this kind of information. People want to know as much as possible about how the system works, and where its shortfalls might be. 

3. How we distribute our zine can have a large impact: 

In October 2022, Peterborough had a municipal election. Soon after, we made sure the city’s new mayor received a copy of the zine. By distributing our work in this way, we’re hopeful we can establish a shared set of facts and understandings about the current system so that our community can work together more easily.

4. Coordinated Access may not be achieving its stated goal of increased transparency and fairness: 

One of the goals of Coordinated Access is to increase transparency, accountability, and fairness.

The need for us to create "Get In Line” in the first place suggests that the system is not as transparent as it could be. Our team struggled to find an official account of how the system is supposed to work, especially when it came to the processes in place at local homeless shelters. There were many rules and processes that service users described to us that we couldn’t find communicated in any official documentation. It took a lot of effort before the general shape of Peterborough’s housing and shelter systems started coming into view. Even today, there are some system processes we don’t entirely understand. These difficulties further reinforced that Coordinated Access is by no means simple. 

What’s Next

“Get In Line” is the first in a series of zines that the Research for Social Change Lab plans to produce. Since the publication of the first issue, the BfE Super Crew embarked on another round of data collection, but this time, we wanted to hear from people who were interacting with the systems we described in the first issue. In the summer of 2022, we interviewed 48 people who were experiencing or had experienced homelessness in Peterborough to learn what it is like to be homeless in our community, and what it’s like to seek support in accessing housing and shelter. 

We also interviewed 35 people who work in the service-providing or government agencies that comprise our homelessness system.

Our next zine will share what we learned from those interviews. Keep an eye out for our next issue!

Meet the Creators of the Zine

“Get In Line” was researched, written, designed and produced by the BfE SuperCrew, one of the research teams at the RSCL. The team is made up of: Samantha Blondeau, Joey Lavictoire, Thamer Linklater, Marisa Mackenzie, Naomi Nichols and myself. Together, we wrote this description of ourselves:

“The BfE SuperCrew is a neuro-diverse team with a range of lived experiences that we draw on as resources for this project. Some of us grew up in Peterborough. Others grew up in the West. One of us is Indigenous and grew up in the foster care system. Collectively, we represent a spectrum of gender identities. All of us strive for equity and justice.”

Click here to read the full first issue: