Western University and Indwell have partnered to undertake award-winning research on the power of supportive housing to change lives. Indwell: Making Supportive Housing Work for Canada’s Most Vulnerableis a testimony to the courage of our tenants in living out their search for health, wellness, and belonging in the face of system constraints. The project was the 2022 recipient of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s “Golden Roof” Award. Under the leadership of Dr. Abe Oudshoorn and his team from Western University and the Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion, researchers completed a two-year study of Indwell’s supportive housing at London’s Woodfield Gate Apartments, with funding from the National Housing Strategy.
Indwell exists for the care and support of people. We offer deeply affordable housing, care, and support to people experiencing mental health disorders, homelessness, substance use disorders, and other health challenges. We measure our own progress with our tenants and appreciate the personal testimonies of our tenants and partners who identify our work as important and of high quality.
However, there are gaps in what we know about our work. Some of the work we are doing is so new that there is very little to compare it to. While many see the need to replicate and expand work like Indwell’s, there is a significant lack of rigorous evaluation of supportive housing. Secondly, we have the opportunity to use the knowledge developed in our services to inform national policy. In a landscape of high competition for a relatively small basket of resources, lack of evidence can be detrimental to the growth of supportive housing supply for the most vulnerable.
I encourage you to read the full report. As I reviewed it, two items stood out to me.
The first is the affirmation that deep affordability, community, and access to support as a complete package are important to our tenants and a key element of their journey towards wellness. Not only is the availability of support a factor, but it is the availability of a deep and full range of support services that contributes to tenant health and wellness. Tenant narratives affirm what other data tells us: supportive housing can end homelessness for individuals and create new opportunities for recovery and growth.
The second finding is the fact that supportive housing is embraced within the National Housing Strategy as one of the six priority areas for action: “Housing for those in greatest need.” Permanent Supportive Housing is identified as a key intervention in ending the experience of homelessness for vulnerable Canadians, and yet—from a policy and resource-allocation perspective—lacks meaningful support in federal policy such as the National Housing Strategy. The very tool that can be used to end homelessness is, in fact—from a policy perspective—also homeless. While there are clear pathways for charities to develop new housing in terms of bricks and mortar, the same pathways don’t exist to find the supports to keep people housed.
The research concluded with a number of practical recommendations for both policy changes and local service delivery. They include:
Social assistance rates must be increased to make affordability work better.
Readily available, on-site supports should be integrated in more existing community/social housing, and affordable housing sites to expedite the process of expanding supportive housing.
National Housing Strategy funding should support affordability and deep affordability. Loan funding for market-rent housing development should be a separate program.
The National Housing Strategy should create a dedicated supportive housing stream to ensure that organizations who wish to house Canada’s most vulnerable are guaranteed some portion of operational funding.
Other organizations who may provide affordable housing without current on-site supports—even those who work in the sector but not necessarily providing housing—should consider taking up delivery of permanent supportive housing.
This work verifies that continued advocacy for a singular policy which governs the creation of net new supportive housing resources blending health and housing resources will make the development of adequate housing a reality. Permanent supportive housing works; replicating it will require support through updates of the National Housing Strategy.
This study will inform future policy—and we’re not finished. Together, we have secured additional funding to continue our research. The next phase of the research will trace the paths of tenants in particular outcomes like service usage, length of tenancy, and wellbeing. This will allow us to compare different forms of support being provided at four different housing sites in London and St. Thomas. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Western to study and improve our model of permanent supportive housing.
Applications are invited for a CIHR-SSHRC Healthy, Productive Work Partnership Postdoctoral Fellowship: Mobilizing a Carer-Friendly Workplace Standard. We are seeking a skilled and enthusiastic postdoctoral fellow (PDF) to conduct research related to formal and informal caregiving. This position will be under the direction of Dr. Bharati Sethi (Political Studies, Trent University). The successful applicant will be co-supervised by Dr. Allison Williams.
Multiple studies have found that healthcare providers hold weight stigmatizing attitudes, but few explore how weight stigma happens or how it may be disrupted. In this workshop clinicians and/or clinical instructors are invited to learn the existence of weight stigma in clinical practice and how to disrupt it from Zoe Leyland, PhD, and Eva Pila, PhD.
In this series Food Insecurity Affects Us All – A 360 Degree View of the Issues, we have explored myths about food insecurity and the impacts on college & university students and broader London neighbours and community members. We are indeed all affected. In this blog, I share recommendations from Western student leaders and from community leaders.
Action at multiple levels and across systems is needed to address this complex health and social equity problem
Graduate Students Needs
“The roots of food insecurity stem from graduate funding packages that no longer reflect the increased cost of living (housing, food, and essential items). The policies and decisions made by our provincial and federal government are affecting our graduate student body.”
Kesavi Kanagasabai, Society of Graduate Students (SOGS) Vice President Student Services.
Kanagasabai told me, “There is a lot of stigma associated with people who decide to pursue higher education, often people wonder why those who pursue graduate schooling do not enter the workforce. Our society requires you to have graduate education to get a decent entry-level paying job. There is a statistic, which shows that women on average tend to go for more degrees as being more qualified than the average man, and that is something that I think people do not account for.”
Graduate education means more financial burden.
To background this issue, graduate students are funded generally in the following ways:
1) Research fellowships, where funds are allocated through research grants, usually Tri-Council Canadian government research agencies or other external sources of funding obtained through their supervisor’s work
3) Other part-time employment, such as through teaching assistantships (TA).
As I explored in Food Insecurity: A Hidden Issue on Campus, approximately 1 in 10 graduate students are facing the effects of food insecurity. To respond, SOGS voted to increase the graduate student foodbank allotment from $75 (and $25/dependent) to $100. Following this organizational response, SOGS further advocated for increased graduate student financial aid from Western’s Provost and School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies to support not only the food bank, but to stand by their commitment to student health, wellness, and overall academic success. SOGS’ leadership using evidence-based survey research and community petition to reform graduate student funding at Western, in addition to collective action efforts (i.e., public rally) provided by Western’s Graduate Teaching Assistant and Postdoctoral Union (PSAC Local 610) garnered the university’s attention toward food insecurity and housing needs among the graduate community during the winter term.
Western Administration Responds
SOGS’ advocacy, led by the Executive team, resulted in the graduate community receiving the largest investment to date from Western. Initially, a 3-year $500k emergency needs-based graduate student bursary program was offered. However, following further negotiations and collaborative efforts between the Provost’s leadership team and the SOGS Executive in a joint Graduate Student Affordability Working Group, which included hosting a Graduate Funding Town Hall, the bursary program commitment was tripled resulting in a $1.5 million contribution from Western over the next 3-year budget cycle.
While this contribution was well received by the broader Western community, Danica Facca, the 2022-2023 SOGS President, says that this issue requires a larger conversation; “While the funding is welcome, and will likely provide a much-needed lifeline to students, longstanding issues need to be addressed.
Facca elaborates, “Once the bursaries are depleted, what does that mean then? [T]hese larger structural pieces need to be addressed with severity and seriousness. Structural issues include the transparency behind the makeup of graduate funding packages and the opportunities graduate students have to be supported by their program/faculty at both the master’s and doctoral level of study. While the current minimum funding guarantee for doctoral students is $20,000 per year over four years, and includes paying out for tuition and ancillary fees, funding support that is paid out to graduate students across campus varies according to each faculty as it is dependent on their internal funding and external funding circumstances. Some faculties, like those in science, receive more robust funding from tri-council agencies and external organizations which results in larger budgets to go towards supporting graduate student trainees and research work. This faculty-based system, regardless of a minimum funding guarantee, perpetuates inequity across graduate programs at Western. Higher guaranteed funding packages, inclusive of tuition and ancillary fees, across master’s and doctoral programs would allow graduate students to avoid taking out loans or working a second job, and keep them about the poverty line.”
Kevin Moore, the 2022-2023 SOGS Vice President Academic agrees and suggests the $1.5 million bursary program commitment is the start of a necessary overhaul of graduate student funding, “ [T]he allocation of these funds will be important so things like childcare subsidies and food banks but again, I wouldn’t classify these as solutions rather it is a start in helping members who are in dire need for these resources.”
Facca adds, “The university should commit to making ‘full-ride’ scholarships for unfunded programs for students from equity-deserving groups.”
Kanagasabai alsosuggests prioritizing based on need. “When graduate housing infrastructure is put in place to support the growing student population, these units should be available to students in need rather than on a first-come first-serve basis. This is ensuring students from marginalized communities and financial precarities are being supported and given equal opportunities.”
Student Leaders Call for Multifaceted Approaches to Solving Food Insecurity on Campus
Facca suggests, “ [A] multifaceted approach to solving health inequities like food insecurity should intersect at the level of financial and institutional policy changes.”
Facca recommends the following to address food insecurity among graduate students:
Update funding packages and stipends to make them commensurate with inflation rates to improve overall quality of life and financial circumstances.
Invest in needs-based financial support programs within post-secondary institutions, with attention given to those students from equity-deserving groups who face additional barriers to accessing higher education.
Offer peer-based/student-led community food support programs within private spaces away from undergraduate students and faculty (with whom graduate students work with or instruct) so they can access financial supports like gift-cards in order to go out and independently purchase products that are best for their dietary, cultural, and personal needs without being bound to a limited option of non-perishable items.
Invest in on-campus community-based kitchen spaces where graduate students can bring food to prepare, as well as space where small groups can prepare meals together, which can increase access to nutritious food, build community, combat social isolation, and offer an alternative to emergency food relief programs.
Community Leaders Call for System Level Targets and Action
The Vital Conversation: Food Security video is available to watch and listen to the full discussion.
The panelists validated what I have been hearing from campus to community. Becky Ellis from Urban Roots London, a non-profit organization that supports innovative urban agricultural models said, “People need to be able to afford food. [W]e need affordable housing and all levels of government have to take this very seriously. We also need, I believe, increases to social assistance, to ODSP and to minimum wage.”
I was also impacted by Sarah Stern’s comments. Stern is from the social impact program of Maple Leaf Foods – the Maple Leaf Centre for Food Insecurity – and talked about food policy in Canada, emphasizing that it is the responsibility of government to ensure that everyone has access to food.
Stern said, “I think our number one push is that this government needs to set a target to reduce food insecurity. If you set a target, it promotes cross-departmental working groups that have to be working together and it trickles down. Right now, we have a food policy for Canada that talks about food insecurities going in the wrong direction so it’s an indicator but not an outcome. So, we really think we need a target to reduce food insecurity to align action.”
This series was developed by Samantha Campanella and Hooria Haider, Western University, Health Sciences Students, Community Engaged Learning placement with CRHESI. Christine Garinger, CRHESI Coordinator, was series editor.
Are you passionate about making a positive impact on community health? Middlesex-London Health Unit is currently seeking dedicated individuals to join their team and contribute to improving the well-being of the community. This blog post presents two exciting employment opportunities at Middlesex-London Health Unit: Health Promotion Specialist, Indigenous Health, and Health Promotion Specialist. Read on to discover more about these positions and how you can become a part of this dynamic organization.
To apply for these exciting opportunities, please visit the Middlesex-London Health Unit’s website and submit your application, including your resume and cover letter, highlighting your relevant experience and qualifications.
The deadline for applications is May 23, 2023
Please refer to the Middlesex-London Health Unit’s official website for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding the job opportunities mentioned.