Risk and Protective Factors of Precarious Housing among Indigenous People Living in Urban Centres in Alberta, Canada

By Shier, Micheal L.; Graham, John R. et al. | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Risk and Protective Factors of Precarious Housing among Indigenous People Living in Urban Centres in Alberta, Canada


Shier, Micheal L., Graham, John R., Fukuda, Eriko, Turner, Alina, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Introduction

Precarious living is becoming more commonplace within Canada. This is evident in the increasing prevalence of precarious employment (such as temporary or part-time employment) and precarious housing (such as homelessness, couch surfing, below standard living conditions, or families having to double-up) within the country (Wellesley Institute, 2010; Vosko, 2006). Without addressing these situations through targeted public policy and programs, precarious living can create severe social ramifications for society (such as higher rates of crime and addiction within a population, along with inter-generational cycles of poverty), and it can have debilitating psycho-social implications for individuals and families (such as decreased selfesteem and self-worth) (Ehrenreich, 2001; Bourgois, 2003; Iverson & Armstrong, 2006; Smith, 2006). The focus of this article is on the housing aspect of precarious living for Indigenous people living in Alberta, Canada.

Precarious housing not only has social and psychological implications for people, it also has individual and public health consequences. For instance, within public policy discourse in Canada, stable, adequate housing has been identified as a social determinant of health (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2004; Raphael, 2004). By not having stable, adequate housing, individuals are at an increased risk for mental and physical illness. And, despite Canada's generally high level of social and economic development (OECD Better Life Initiative, 2011), not all Canadians live in stable adequate housing. For instance, some have argued that there are upwards of 300,000 people in Canada living without a permanent, stable residence of their own (Laird, 2007), and in 2005 26% of Canadian households, representing 3.2 million families, could not afford their housing costs (Shapcott, 2008). These substandard housing situations negatively impact individual physical and psychological health, and have negative community effects (Frankish, Hwang, & Quantz, 2008), and all of these factors are detrimental to the health of the population more generally.

While research on homelessness and other forms of precarious housing and its negative social and health effects has been extensive within policy discussions in Canada over the last two decades (Alliance to End Homelessness, 2005; Homelessness Partnering Secretariat, 2007; Parliament of Canada, 1990), this research has only begun to explore the factors that might contribute to precarious housing among Indigenous people, specifically (Wente, 2000; Westerfelt, & Yellow Bird, 1999).The factors that lead to Indigenous people living in precarious housing situations are an important area of study for two reasons. First, Indigenous people continue to be overrepresented in urban homeless populations (Menzies, 2006), with estimates ranging as high as 25 to 80 percent, depending on the city or community (Baskin, 2007; Casavant, 1999; Distasio, Sylvester, & Mulligan, 2005; Ruttan, LaBoucane-Benson, & Munro, 2008). This proportion is staggering, considering Indigenous people only make up approximately 4 percent of the Canadian population (Statistics Canada, 2008).

Secondly, the overrepresentation of Indigenous people who are homeless in Canada is likely to continue as a result of risks for precarious housing associated with this subpopulation. These include having lower rates of employment and lower incomes than non-Indigenous populations, as well as the inability to afford housing, and instability caused by domestic migration; all factors associated with precarious housing outcomes (Fertig, & Reingold, 2008; Fitzpartick, 2005). Data from 2008 and 2010 reveal that employment rates for Indigenous individuals (75 percent compared to 86.7 percent for non-Indigenous people) as well as their median income ($22,000 compared to $33,000 for non-Indigenous) remains lower than non-Indigenous people (Statistics Canada, 2010, 2011). …

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