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homeslessness encampment

From NIMBY to neighbour: Brokering a dialogue about homelessness among people experiencing homelessness, law enforcement, and the community at large

With approximately 35,000 people experiencing homelessness each night, homelessness is a growing crisis effecting communities across Canada. However, there are unique challenges in mid-sized cities, where the visibility of homelessness is often a relatively new phenomenon and the demand by community members to 'do something' comes up against the rights and needs of people experiencing homelessness. Too often police are called to manage the optics of homelessness, particularly in commercial areas. These interventions lead to what are at best band-aid solutions to systemic problems. At worst, they criminalize and further marginalize people experiencing homelessness.

"From NIMBY to Neighbour" is a multi-year research project funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada ($199,150) that will interrogate perceptions about people experiencing homelessness as inherently deviant and dangerous, and build a new narrative premised on knowledge sharing and enhancing community resiliency. The project involves a comparative case study in three mid-size cities in Ontario: Guelph, Cambridge, and Brantford. These cities face similar challenges around homelessness. The project objectives are four-fold: 1) develop an environmental scan of promising policy and practice responses to homelessness in Canadian municipalities; 2) undertake a media scan of local newspapers and social media focused on the three cities to understand how citizens are informed of, and react to, the official responses to homelessness identified in the environmental scan; 3) employ and adapt an innovative brokered dialogue methodology to address contentious issues among stakeholder groups -- people with lived experience of homelessness, law enforcement, and community members; and 4) create opportunities for meaningful exchange between divergent groups to foster social inclusion for people experiencing homelessness. Brokered dialogue is ideal for this project because it offers a non-oppositional form of facilitated interviewing designed to engage people with varying degrees of power around contentious issues in safe and empowering ways.

A distinguishing feature of the research project is that it is a collaboration between eight scholars at three institutions (Wilfrid Laurier University, University of Guelph, and Centre for Mental Health and Addiction) and four community partners. Importantly, the Cities of Cambridge and Brantford are partners and have been instrumental in the project design and, together with the City of Guelph, will play a direct role in guiding the project’s direction. Their partnership demonstrates their commitment to using research results to inform policies and practices on homelessness and community building. As part of the project the research team will establish an Advisory Group composed of people with lived experience of homelessness who will help guide the research. The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, a non-profit research institute, will use its national platform to ensure that research findings resonate across the country. The research team, which is led by Drs. Erin Dej and Carrie Sanders, is comprised of academics with a range of theoretical, methodological, and empirical expertise to cover the scope of the project, including: homelessness; community engagement; policing practices; participatory research; and media studies. Currently the project team includes a project coordinator, as well as several graduate and undergraduate student research assistants.

An environmental scan of municipal homelessness plans is underway as is a media scan. This fall the team will interview for the brokered dialogue. Ultimately, the project will make sense of how different groups perceive homelessness, use of space, public safety, and community integration, with the aim of building empathy and community resiliency within and across the case study sites.  

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