Reducing social isolation with new community resource


LONDON, ON – Researchers in London are sharing a new resource that can help municipalities and other organizations better understand social isolation and implement solutions proven to be effective. With input from over 35 community partners and people with lived experience, the research team hopes this tool can be used to support community-based initiatives that counteract poverty and homelessness while promoting mental health and social inclusion.  

“The pandemic has highlighted the issues of isolation and homelessness, and we know there is a connection between mental health and poverty. Unfortunately, right now, many people don’t see solutions in sight,” explains Dr. Cheryl Forchuk, Assistant Scientific Director at Lawson Health Research Institute. “Our new resource offers an expanded understanding of isolation and homelessness based on a very broad view and many different perspectives. We have taken it a step further and given examples of solutions that are working.” She is the lead researcher for CURA (Community-University Research Alliance): Poverty, Mental Health and Social Inclusion.  

Today during a virtual book launch, the team from the CURA discussed details of a new publication from Canadian Scholars: Poverty, Mental Health, and Social Inclusion, edited by Drs. Forchuk and Rick Csiernik. Community partners from Connect for Mental Health (peer support), Impact Junk Solutions from CMHA Elgin-Middlesex, and Goodwill Industries shared more about their successful programs.  

The book brings together research, real stories and information about programs from the London and area community that are working to address these issues. Most of the chapters includes a wide range of co-authors, including psychiatric consumer-survivors, academics, students, front-line service providers and leadership from community partners.  

“In order to find real solutions, the voices of people using the services must be at the centre. Their stories and experiences have been a very important part of producing this book,” says Betty Edwards, Executive Director at Can-Voice, a consumer-survivor group, and Community Director for CURA. “For us to move the needle, we need collaboration across different sectors, for example health, income support, housing and social services. No one sector can solve these issues on their own.” 

The book summarizes the foundational work by the CURA to better understand the inter-relationships between poverty and social inclusion for psychiatric survivors. Social inclusion involves the full participation of marginalized groups in the social and economic benefits of society which can be difficult to achieve for people with the “double jeopardy” of poverty and mental illness. 

“After five years of funding and several published research papers, we wanted to pull the findings together as a whole so that it would be more easily accessed and implemented by a wide range of people and organizations,” adds Dr. Forchuk. “Our hope is that other cities and service providers can pick up this book to see what we’re doing in London, and consider ways that they may reach out to their citizens to address social exclusion. It is also an academic tool to prepare the next generation as they continue to tackle the wicked problem of homelessness.”  

Incorporating an arts-based approach, the book also features photographs taken by photographer Justin Langille who would spend about a month with each of the programs offering solutions and partnered with consumer survivors to capture accurate depictions of what they considered important messages.  

“I reflect back on the past 15 months of the pandemic and know how isolated I have felt at times. Imagine the feelings of isolation or being forgotten that would come with experiencing homelessness? And for some, it’s been most of their adult lives,” shares Dr. Csiernik, Professor at King’s University College at Western University. “We know that many people during the pandemic have lost homes, jobs and food security. Some may have new or worsening mental health disorders. The learnings and solutions like the ones presented in the book are needed now more than ever.”  

A central focus of the CURA team has been understanding homelessness – what lead someone to experience homelessness and how do we as a society respond? By bringing together different perspectives, the CURA team uncovered the issue of hospital discharge to homelessness, leading to research projects at London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London that integrates the City of London’s housing and homeless approach. They have been better able to tailor youth specific homeless interventions after more awareness of the unique challenges of homeless youth. Driven by an information gap identified by the CURA, Dr. Forchuk’s team recently announced a research project testing data algorithms to track and identify who is homeless and where they are located. 



Photo credit for all images: Justin Langille Photography 


A supported housing unit rendered uninhabitable by an individual suffering from mental illness, which was a challenge for Impact Junk Solutions to de-clutter. (Photo credit: Justin Langille Photography)


Diane assembles parts on the floor of the Goodwill’s RMHC Social Enterprise program in St.Thomas in April 2014. (Photo credit: Justin Langille Photography)


Steve helps a co-worker navigate a couch out from a basement in the Blackfriars neighbourhood in London, Ontario in April 2014. Returning to work has been essential for Steve’s successful recovery from mental illness and substance abuse. (Photo credit: Justin Langille Photography) 


Goodwill RMHC Social Enterprise program employee Donald applies reflective tape to a stack of pylons in March 2014. (Photo credit: Justin Langille Photography) 


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Celine Zadorsky

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Lawson Health Research Institute
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