Victoria Burns, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary. She has a BA (psychology) (University of New Brunswick), BSW, MSW and PhD in social work (McGill University), and post-doctoral training in urban studies (Institut National de Recherche Scientifique, Montreal, Quebec). Dr. Burns’ community-based research interests focus on the intersection of ageing, place, and homelessness, all of which are inspired by several years of social work practice with vulnerable older adults.
Beyond Housing: Creating a Sense of Place among Older Homeless Adults in Calgary, Alberta
Canada’s older homeless population is rising at an alarming rate. Despite this, attention to the unique needs of this extremely vulnerable population is limited and they continue to ‘fall through the cracks’ in research, policy, and practice domains. In particular, ageing policies focusing on age-friendly strategies cater primarily to adults who are ageing at home in their community. The small but growing body of literature on older homelessness has provided important insights into risk factors and pathways into homelessness. However, research exploring how sense of place is experienced among this population is emergent and currently insufficient to inform policy development. This represents an important gap in knowledge considering a person’s environment takes on new meaning and significance in later life. Moreover, few studies have investigated how specific identity markers (i.e., gender, sexual orientation, ability/disability, and ethnicity, among others) affect an older homeless person’s ability to feel ‘in place’ in various environments. Drawing on an innovative multi-sensory research approach, this study explores how sense of place is created by a diverse population of older homeless adults in Calgary, Alberta. This question is examined through participatory go-along interviews that combine photography and digital videos. This arts-inspired method involves having researchers and participants collaboratively take images and record videos focusing on how they navigate their everyday routines and experience meaningful spaces and places. By focusing on how sense of place is created, this study advances ageing and place, and age-friendly research by creatively shedding light on diverse experiences of later-life homelessness. In this presentation we share preliminary findings and identify services and approaches that promote housing stability and well-being for this growing population. In addition, we offer insights regarding how participatory research methods can be used to promote deeper understanding of the experiences of marginalized older adults.