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Celebrating a decade of forging University-community relationships

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: July 16, 2020 11:30 a.m.

Key members of the Community Engagement and Research Centre’s hidden homeless project (Left to right): Ann Perry, The Circle Project, Lisa Workman, Four Directions Community Health Centre, Laurie Clune, Faculty of Nursing, U of R.
Key members of the Community Engagement and Research Centre’s hidden homeless project (Left to right): Ann Perry, The Circle Project, Lisa Workman, Four Directions Community Health Centre, Laurie Clune, Faculty of Nursing, U of R. Photo: Courtesy of Lynn Gidluck

In a 2016 State of Homelessness in Canada report, it was estimated that at least 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness in any given year. The number is undoubtedly much higher because many who are homeless do not come into contact with the community organizations that operate shelters and provide transitional housing. The “hidden homeless” are those people who are left to seek shelter in abandoned houses, on friend’s and family’s couches, and in their cars. Now, thanks to a study funded by the University’s Faculty of Arts' Community Engagement & Research Centre (CERC), the scope of the plight of Regina’s hidden homeless may finally emerge.

“While the numbers matter, we are more interested in the people behind the statistics,” explains Laurie Clune, an associate professor in the Faculty of Nursing, and the lead researcher from the University collaborating with Circle Project and the Four Directions Community Health Centre on the project. “We want to learn about what members of the hidden homeless experience so that we can push to fill the gaps in service provision with new service delivery programs.”

Director of the Faculty of Arts' Community Engagement & Research Centre Lynn Gidluck.
Photo: U of R Photography

The hidden homeless study is just the kind of research project that the U of R’s Community Engagement & Research Centre, formally known as the Community Research Unit, has been involved in for the past 10 years.

According to CERC’s former academic director Michelle Stewart, the recent name change more accurately reflects the unit’s mandate and programming. “It better reflects the wide range of programs and services offered by CERC,” she says. “The research centre looks to build connections in a variety of ways – facilitating community-initiated research projects, for instance, as well as enhancing student engagement with community-based research through learning opportunities like the Arts Work Experience Internship Program.”

In the past decade, a diverse range of University-community partnerships were spearheaded. Over ten years, a total of 48 collaborative research projects have been initiated with 84 community partners. Those projects have engaged 66 University of Regina faculty and staff members and 37 student researchers. Research grants for those projects have amounted to almost $93,000. Amber Fletcher, a professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Studies, has since stepped into the academic director role, joining community director Lynn Gidluck and a seven-member board of directors.

Ann Perry, executive director of The Circle Project, praises CERC for its hidden homeless research and its contributions to the wellness of the community.

“We have known for some time that there are much broader issues around homelessness in the community,” Perry says. “Specifically, hidden homelessness as it relates to issues like family violence, impacts of living in poverty or dealing with unforeseen circumstances, to name a few. Without the support of CERC, this important information would likely have stayed at the community level as the identification of a pattern or trend and would likely have not gone further.”

Four Directions Community Health Centre, a North Central neighbourhood health and wellness organization, is the other community partner working on the project. Lisa Workman, the centre’s Aboriginal community development coordinator, says this important research study would not have gotten off the ground without CERC and adds that the findings will lead to enhanced well-being for Regina’s hidden homeless.

“By collecting information on the hidden homeless it takes them out of the shadows and gives them a voice. It puts them in a better position to demand access to be better standard of living and quality of life,” Workman says. “The data will used by community groups to advocate for services such as 24-hour drop-in centres, improvements to housing standards, more frontline services, and anti-poverty measures. This information will also be beneficial for raising public awareness, which in turn may influence political will towards creating the funding and opportunities to bring about change.”

The first phase of the research project resulted in the completion of about 300 surveys that presented a wide range of questions related to individuals’ housing situations. The next phase, which involves interviews to delve even deeper into people’s living conditions, has been paused because of COVID-19. When current circumstances return to near normal conditions those interviews will proceed. The end result of the research project will be a final report that includes a detailed description of the hidden homeless population in Regina, as well as recommendations that will provide focus for policy-makers, program developers, and potential funders.

In addition to its research efforts, CERC also delivers a number of training courses for staff and volunteers of small- to medium-sized not-for-profit organizations. CERC’s Toolkit Workshop series has been delivered about 60 times since 2011 and has included such workshops as project management fundamentals, grant and proposal writing, social media marketing, and respectful engagement with Indigenous communities. The workshops are delivered through a partnership with the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation, United Way Regina and Regina Public Library - Albert Branch. Recently, CERC, in partnership with Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Canadian Philanthropy Partnership Network delivered a webinar on how to host virtual annual general meetings.

“I can’t wait to see what the next ten years have in store for CERC,” Gidluck says. “Every day I am inspired by people whose common goal is to work together to improve the communities they live in and associate with. I sincerely thank the Faculty of Arts for taking a leadership role at the University of Regina in funding, promoting, and facilitating community-campus engagement towards a more equitable and just society.”

Related:

Community Engagement & Research Centre