Rural Migration and Homelessness in the North

Area of Research: 
Health services & systems
Mental health and addiction


To assess the role that the gaps in mental health and addictions services in Inuvik and the surrounding region play in the (re)production of homelessness. 


The overall aim of this project is to assess the role that the gaps in mental health and addictions services in Inuvik and the surrounding region play in the (re)production of homelessness. The Inuvik Interagency Committee (IIC) and its member groups suggest that gaps in mental health and addictions support play a key role in the phenomenon of homelessness. In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of support needs, the research team must also explore how notions of mental health, well-being, and home are conceptualized in the northern community context. This includes an appreciation for historical and contemporary approaches to mental health and addictions used by local Inuvialuit, Gwich’in, and Métis peoples.

From our principal aim, five main research objectives have been developed:

1. To understand the mental health, addictions, and housing support needs of homeless men and women in Inuvik, including those migrating to the town from rural communities, and the factors contributing to their migration. By employing focus groups, surveys, and in-depth interviews, the research team will gain a detailed understanding of what their specific support needs are.

2. To identify gaps in mental health and addictions services for local homeless men and women based on these identified support needs. This allows the research team to highlight the critical areas of weakness in the current system based on the specific support needs identified by local homeless people and support providers.

3. To examine how housing needs in the community and region interact with mental health and addictions support needs. An examination of how housing needs connect to mental health and addictions concerns will permit a more comprehensive picture of local homelessness.

4. To combine the findings from the first three objectives to assess how gaps in the current continuum of care vis-à-vis mental health, addictions, and housing services relate to local homelessness. The specific experiences of local homeless men and women will provide the context for this exploration and will demonstrate the critical areas for intervention in the local continuum of care.

5. To develop, in the spirit of action research, a proposal for supportive housing initiatives, as well as additional policy and practice recommendations and strategies that can be mobilized by local stakeholders in efforts to alleviate homelessness in Inuvik and surrounding communities. This proposal will be based on the specific needs and gaps highlighted and rooted in local cultural understandings of mental health, well-being, and home. The research team will also draw from other models of community, as well as other supportive housing models, in the development of the proposal.

Motivated by personal research philosophies, increased northern community engagement in academic research, as well as a desire to meaningfully collaborate with northern communities, the research team employs community-based research (CBR) as an “action-oriented” approach to the research on northern homelessness. CBR includes research conducted under many different designations, including action research, participatory research, participatory action research, and collaborative inquiry. These terms are often used interchangeably because the concepts share underlying goals of social change, goals that fall closely in line with the ethical principles guiding academic research with Aboriginal communities. Furthermore, a more accurate and appropriate response to the issues of addiction, mental health problems and homelessness is therefore anticipated because CBR is known to increase community participation, which provides more and robust information. CBR has become the expected approach for research with Aboriginal communities in Canada, especially in the North. It parallels in many ways the tenets of Aboriginal methodology and demands the research enterprise be adapted “…to the culture and context of the participants”. Such an approach necessitates a research design that is rooted in local context, in pursuit of local research aims and with an agenda for motivating social change. Thus, the research objectives and methodology are largely dictated by the northern community context in which the research team works.

This study employs a mixed methods approach that contributes to scientific knowledge but at the same time produces social change for stakeholders, particularly research participants. The research will consist of an iterative process whereby qualitative interviews and participant observation feed into the development of quantitative questions to be vetted by community members. To acquire the most appropriate and accurate information, the research team will consult with the local research community and adapt the interview questions as necessary. This will ensure that the questions are both relevant and constructed appropriately for the community context. In order to ensure the comparability of data across groups, and to obtain baseline information of the individual quality of life, a short-form health survey with only 36 questions (the SF36) will be used. This homeless survey tool has been tested in widely different social and cultural contexts and has proven an efficient and useful assessment tool.

Interview data will be recorded on a digital device and transcribed into a Word file. Data will be kept as per Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)/Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC)guidelines.

Please see link below to PDF template of SF36 health survey.

As per the methodology, the research team will construct the questionnaire following interviews with potential subjects.

There will be several public presentations of the results: (1) for the surveyed population, a presentation will be held at the local shelter; (2) members of the IIC will be given a separate presentation; (3) a presentation open to the public will also be held; (4) a radio broadcast of the results is also anticipated; (5) dissemination of a report to the HRSDC and CIHR is also anticipated; and (6) the results will be presented at scholarly conferences and may appear in journals.

The fieldwork for this study was conducted July 18, 2012, to December 31, 2012.

View on the Aurora Research Institute Database.