Stable Homes Strong Families: Housing and Health for Aboriginal Peoples

Thirty years into the epidemic, Aboriginal peoples continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS. One factor driving this situation is housing instability. There is now solid empirical evidence to support the statement that housing is powerfully linked with risk for HIV exposure and transmission, and with the care and health of persons living with HIV/AIDS. Unstable housing and homelessness contribute to health disparities, lack of access to appropriate health services, poor physical and mental health, and vulnerability to HIV-related risk behaviours. This project has been a long time in the making. The name of the project, Stable Homes, Strong Families, was inspired by an HIV positing woman who, at a meeting several years ago that was addressing issues around housing and HIV, shared the story of her experience. She told everyone at this meeting that since she had secured stable housing, she was able to take better care of herself and create a home for her family.

Cultural Identity Must be Considered in Addressing Housing Instability

Although various housing and health initiatives have attempted to address these complex structural issues, social housing designs are often based on western constructs that force Aboriginal peoples to live in inappropriate housing situations that suppress cultural identity. When communities are consulted and urban planners act on what they have heard, Aboriginal families are able to retain or recover their cultural values and life ways. These approaches support key public policy recommendations not only in the area of housing, but also in health policy. For example, despite funding constraints imposed by federal regulators in health transfer agreements to First Nations communities, studies demonstrate that self-determination for Aboriginal peoples leads to locally defined responses that yield positive housing outcomes. Studies also demonstrate that First Nation control of housing in Canada tends to mediate health disparities and improve health outcomes and that reinforcing the attributes that contribute to cultural identity, community and kinship ties, and the strength of ties to traditional territory, is an important element in the provision of health care. Place and home, including housing design, are powerful in terms of supporting cultural identity and in fostering a sense of connection to family, community and environment.

Research Aim and Objectives

This study is a collaboration between the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network,  the National Aboriginal Housing Association (NAHA), provincial Aboriginal HIV and AIDS organizations, Aboriginal people living with HIV and AIDS (APHAs)  and academic researchers and expert collaborators. The aim of this project is to identify and work toward addressing gaps in appropriate housing options that support cultural identity and concepts of home for APHAs and those who live with and care for them. The specific objectives are to: 1.    Identify and critically analyze the programs and policies that affect housing and housing options for Aboriginal peoples and specifically APHAs; 2.    Explore various cultural links to and understandings of home and housing among Aboriginal people living with and directly affected by HIV and AIDS; 3.    Collaborate with policy makers, service providers, community stakeholders and APHAs to develop an integrated knowledge translation to action framework that supports a culturally appropriate response to Aboriginal housing needs in the context of HIV and AIDS. In order to achieve these goals and objectives, we are engaging in two phases of data collection: 1) A comprehensive programmatic and policy analysis of the field of Aboriginal housing policy in Canada generally, and specifically as it related to APHAs and 2) Digital Storytelling. Digital Stories are two to five minute personal narrative videos that, in this case, speak to experiences of housing and home from the perspective of people living with and/or affected by HIV and AIDS.

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