Substance use, mental illness, and histories of trauma and violence are often intertwined into the lives of women who are homeless. Although rates of homelessness among women are difficult to assess (see a previous post here which discusses how homelessness among women can be hidden and look different from homelessness in men), pregnancy rates among women who are homeless are often higher than women in the general population.

While alcohol use in pregnancy is a concern in women who are homeless, it is clear that focusing on changing individual alcohol and substance use is not the answer. A better understanding of the issues that women who are homeless face and the individual and social forces that have led them to being homeless in the first place are more likely to result in more sensitive, caring, and effective approaches to supporting women who are homeless. It’s a case where preventing FASD is about much more than the alcohol (see an earlier post on broadening our understanding of the causes of alcohol use during pregnancy here).

A recent report on the findings of a multi-year research study looking at homelessness in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories explores some of these dynamics. NAT members Arlene Hache (Executive Director at the Centre for Northern Families which runs a 23-bed emergency shelter for women) and Sandra Lockhart (Aboriginal Peoples’ Committee, Public Service Alliance of Canada) have been involved in this and other research projects examining the roots of homelessness and possible solutions for moving forward, particularly as it relates to preventing FASD through a greater understanding of the broader determinants of women’s health and well-being.

Homelessness in Yellowknife: An Emerging Social Challenge revealed that social and economic factors are major causes of homelessness. As well,

  • On any given night, more than 100 people in the city are looking for shelter
  • over 90 percent of homeless people in Yellowknife are Aboriginal: Dene, Métis, or Inuit
  • drug and alcohol use is common among homeless persons in Yellowknife

The full report, executive summary, plain language summary, and the video footage of the report launch forum is now available online.

To learn more about issues of homelessness in Canada, visit The Homeless Hub, a web-based research library and resource centre.

References:

Crawford, D. M., Trotter, E. C., Hartshorn, K. J. S. and Whitbeck, L. B. (2011), Pregnancy and Mental Health of Young Homeless Women. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 81: 173–183. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.2011.01086.x

Falvo, N. (2011). Homelessness in Yellowknife: An Emerging Social Challenge. Toronto: The Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press.

Haley, N., Roy, E., Leclerc, P., Boudreau, J.-F., Boivin, J.-F. (2004). Characteristics of adolescent street youth with a history of pregnancy. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, 17(5): 313-320. doi:10.1016/j.jpag.2004.06.006

Little, M., Shah, R., Vermeulen, J., Gorman, A., Dzendoletas, D., and Ray, J.G. (2005). Adverse perinatal outcomes associated with homelessness and substance use in pregnancy. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 173 (6). doi:10.1503/cmaj.050406

Ogilvie, M. (2010). Pregnant, homeless and invisible in Toronto. The Toronto Star, March 13, 2010.