When (now professor and Canada Research Chair) Naomi Nichols first arrived at Trent as a student, she had no idea where the trajectory of her academic career would take her. When she accepted the opportunity to lead a research program through her position as Canada Research Chair in Community-Partnered Social Justice, the community was in dire need of the skills she developed in ten years of research working alongside youth experiencing poverty and homelessness in Montreal, Toronto and Peterborough.
The Research for Social Change Lab (RSCL) was launched as a way of engaging community groups and inviting collaboration to tackle some of the most pressing problems – homelessness, poverty, lack of appropriate resources – facing the Peterborough community.
“We know that multiple forms of expertise really matter, and we have brought in people who offer different perspectives on the social problems we are facing - including people who have worked in the [community housing] sector, who have lived experiences with poverty,” shares Professor Nichols. “The work that we are doing is enabling the community to engage in social research, access and own their data, and participate equitably in evidence-based decision-making.”
Evaluating Peterborough’s Model for Ending Homelessness
A new report recently released by Prof. Nichols and the RSCL is highlighting the importance of the lab’s role in helping realize better delivery of services for people experiencing homelessness in Peterborough.
The RSCL spent almost a year interviewing dozens of people experiencing homelessness and dozens more people working in the homeless-serving sector to learn what they think is working and not working with the City’s response to homelessness.
“Our report is offering new findings about Peterborough’s system for managing homelessness,” said Prof. Nichols. “Participants in the study offered stark assessments of the local approach to managing homelessness, Coordinated Access. This is a federally-mandated model and local stakeholders say it is failing to deliver on the promise to end homelessness in Peterborough.”
Emphasizing Community and Scholarly Engagement
Prof. Nichols is organizing two key events in Peterborough on the heels of these new findings. First, the sold-out Community Forum on Homelessness on May 9, co-hosted with the Peterborough Drug Strategy, will engage community stakeholders in discussions about the systemic and structural drivers and solutions to homelessness.
Participants will dig into the RSCL’s latest research findings on Coordinated Access, and establish new connections and collaborations between organizations, providers, and community members.
On May 10 and 11, the RSCL along with the Interdisciplinary Social Research Ph.D. program at Trent will co-host the Dorothy Smith Open School and Anti-Conference, a major, two-day event that focuses on sociological inquiry, reflection and collaborative learning informed by the late Dorothy Smith’s Institutional Ethnography approach.
The event is a celebration of Dorothy Smith’s scholarship – founded with the simple purpose of being useful to people working outside and/or against existing power structures. It is also rooted in one of the fundamental values of Prof. Nichols' lab: the joy of intellectual inquiry and resistance to the erosion of intellectual life.
The event will include a talks about the institutional coordination of systemic oppression as well as those that pose questions including HIV criminalization, housing justice, health and the media and the criminalization of poverty.
Students will also form a large part of the collaborative discussions at the event – as they present discussion topics and engage with researchers, faculty members and their peers to inform the continued development of their research. Topics of discussion among student presenters include academic success of student-parents, the role of theory in institutional ethnography, community re-integration of Black women after incarceration and “Cities for Seven Generations” that looks to address system-level interventions in Canadian urban centres.
The Dorothy Smith Open School and Anti-Conference is open to members of the public and advance registration is required.