Street Health and Social Services in the Age of COVID-19: Mapping the impact of the pandemic on street-involved services and supports in Windsor, Ontario

Voronka, Jijian | $46,440

Ontario University of Windsor 2021 SSHRC

Street Health and Social Services in the Age of COVID-19: Mapping the impact of the pandemic on street-involved services and supports in Windsor, Ontario

This project seeks to investigate the effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic on homeless and harm reduction services and supports for street-involved individuals, those that serve them, and the surrounding community of Windsor, Ontario. A small-sized industrial city located in Southwestern Ontario, Windsor is currently experiencing an economic recovery, real estate boom, and population growth, while simultaneously experiencing a « crisis » of homelessness, drug misuse, and opioid-related deaths. Homelessness and drug use often overlap and responding to the dual issues of homelessness and substance use through harm reduction services and supports is an important aspect of Canadian strategies to end homelessness (Pauly et al., 2013). The City of Windsor has been slow to invest in harm reduction services, and to expand the growing need for homeless supports. Yet innovative emergency supports and services to address the needs of street-involved service users emerged in response to the pandemic. The City of Windsor is also set to open its first safe consumption site in 2022, after a decade of community resistance (Chen, 2021b). The goal of this study is to explore the pilot and proposed services and supports that have developed during COVID-19, and map what happens to these services and supports as we move through the intersecting crises of homelessness and opioid-related deaths during the pandemic. Toward achieving this goal, we propose the following objectives: 1. Undertake a discursive mapping of street-involved issues and of the emergency and proposed services and supports that have developed since the pandemic. 2. Identify how 30 local area community and service provider stakeholders have contributed to or contested these emerging services and supports. 3. Identify how 30 street-involved service users utilize and relate to these new and emerging services and supports. 4. Mobilize subjugated knowledges to promote cross-sector community building, development, and advocacy efforts.

This three-year project offers a significant theoretical, methodological, and empirical contribution towards understanding the challenges and changes to providing services and supports to street-involved communities during the pandemic. This research uses critical disability studies as a primary entry point of analysis, as the field is based on the epistemological premise that disabled and marginalized people more broadly know best how to intervene on the systems that affect us, and especially so the systems that are in place to serve and support us (Goodley et al., 2017; Voronka, 2016a). This study is theoretically informed by three interlocking structural approaches to violence: epistemic violence, slow violence, and slow death, and seeks to help redress such violence by foregrounding the subjugated knowledges of street-involved service users. Drawing on techniques of discourse mapping, constructivist grounded theory, and commitments to community engagement, this research will fill a critical gap in the social sciences. In addition to advancing the scholarly field, the project has the potential to improve local service provision, provide evidence for city policy, enhance research partnerships with local community stakeholders, and improve community relations among diverse residents of the city. The broad outcome of this research is to address a knowledge gap and contribute to research, community practice, and public relation strategies to advance the health and safety of street-involved individuals living through unprecedented times.

Avec un financement du Gouvernement du Canada

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