I'm in Yellowknife this week for the launch of a policy report on homelessness.  It's the first of several publications coming out of a multi-year research project that looks at affordable housing and homelessness in the Northwest Territories.  The research is being supervised by Dr. Frances Abele (Carleton University) and our community partner is Arlene Haché (Centre for Northern Families).

Here are the top 10 things I learned while preparing this report:

Homelessness in Yellowknife book cover

10. Local stakeholders should lead

  • This project started with Arlene Haché, Executive Director of the Centre for Northern Families and recent recipient of the Order of Canada.  She wanted to see more research done on homelessness in Yellowknife.

9. Researchers work best when they work together

8. Learn your history!  

  • My supervisor on this project, Dr. Frances Abele, made it clear to me from the get-go that, in addition to the present-day analysis, I would also be involved in writing a historical article on government-assisted housing in the Northwest Territories.  No ifs, ands or buts!  You can’t understand the present if you don’t know how we got here.  Stay tuned for news on the release of the historical article, likely next year.

7. In Canada’s North, get a research license! 

  • In any of Canada’s territories, even if a researcher has clearance from their university’s research ethics board, they are still required to obtain a “research license” from one of the three research licensing bodies.  In the case of the NWT, this is done through the Aurora Research Institute.  Part of the process involved in obtaining a license includes consultation with the local community, including Aboriginal groups, NGOs and municipalities.

6. Disseminate research in multiple formats.

  • A full-length policy report isn’t for everyone.  That’s why my supervisor instructed me to ask Mary McCreadie, formerly of the NWT Literacy Council, to write a plain-language summary of the report.  The summary is longer than the report’s executive summary, shorter than the policy report, and a more straightforward read than either of them.

5. Work with local NGOs. 

  • The Yellowknife Homelessness Coalition has provided us with invaluable assistance in planning the public launch of this research, including the booking of Yellowknife City Hall Council Chambers.  And all of the media work around the launch of this report has been coordinated by Alternatives North, a highly-respected social justice organization based in Yellowknife.  Without the assistance of these NGOs, I wouldn’t have the slightest clue about how to get the message out.

4. Engage with government.

  • Well before the public launch of this report, Arlene and I requested a meeting with the NWT’s Minister Responsible for Homelessness, along with his Deputy Minister.  That means that by the time this report reaches the media, the Minister will know everything he wants to about it.  The report was also sent to relevant territorial departments for feedback; again, this means there will be no surprises when bureaucrats hear about the results through the media. 

3. Defer to local stakeholders

  • Once the research findings have been presented, it’s time for local stakeholders to take over the debate.  After Arlene and I present our findings, there will be a panel discussion involving the co-chair of the Yellowknife Homelessness Coalition, a member of the NWT Legislative Assembly, a local ER physician and a senior bureaucrat in the NWT government. 

2. Use the Internet

  • The role of the folks at the Homeless Hub has been invaluable.  You wouldn’t be reading about any of this if it weren’t for them!  What’s more, the public launch of this report is being recorded by a member of the SERRNoCa research team; and everyone speaking on the panel will be asked to sign consent forms.  The video recording will then be uploaded to the Internet.

And, the number 1 thing I’ve learned about research through this effort is…

Don’t compete with other researchers

  • It just so happens that another PhD student Julia Christensen (a Trudeau Scholar no less!) is actively engaged with homelessness research in the NWT.  Rather than compete, Julia and I hope to one day collaborate together on a journal article that brings together two (non-competing) perspectives.

To access the full report, see: Homelessness in Yellowknife: An Emerging Social Challenge

Nick Falvo is a doctoral candidate at Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration and teaches a course on affordable housing and homelessness in Carleton’s School of Social Work. His research interests include poverty, affordable housing, social assistance, homelessness and post-secondary education policy. Under the supervision of Dr. Frances Abele, he is currently involved in two SSHRC-funded research projects looking at poverty and affordable housing in Canada’s North. And his doctoral dissertation, under the supervision of Dr. Saul Schwartz, consists of three essays on social assistance. Nick is a frequent blogger and op-ed writer, a steering committee member of the Progressive Economics Forum (PEF) and the PEF Events Coordinator for the Annual Conference of the Canadian Economics Association. Prior to his doctoral studies, Nick was a Parliamentary Intern in Ottawa, and then worked for 10 years as a community social worker with homeless persons in Toronto. Contact him at falvo.nicholas@gmail.com