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Dr. Naomi Thulien lends expertise to new research projects

Aug 28, 2019
Guylaine Spencer

Naomi Thulien

Dr. Naomi Thulien, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing, will be lending her expertise in youth homelessness and qualitative research to three new studies. Two are funded by The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the third is funded by The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

The first study, funded by SSHRC, is a two-year project led by Dr. Dej out of Wilfred Laurier University. Thulien is a co-investigator. “This study will look at what it is like for young women when they leave homelessness, specifically focussing on their experiences of loneliness and social exclusion. We will be critiquing some inequities that may be going on for these young women. For example, will be looking at inequities related to race, class and gender,” says Thulien.

The second SSHRC study, led by Dr. Stephanie Begun from the University of Toronto runs for four years. Thulien is a co-investigator. The researchers will examine what it is like for young people once they exit transitional housing programs. Thulien explains that “transitional housing is for young people who have experienced homelessness. They can be rooms or apartments. The programs typically run for one or two years and their rent is heavily subsidized. During their stay, the young people also typically have access to an outreach worker. After that, they have to go into costly market rent housing or find other options. In our study, we are going to be following the youth for 18 months after they leave transitional housing. We are partnering with Covenant House in Toronto.”

This study is unique because, surprisingly, “this is really the first time to my knowledge that someone has exclusively focused on young people who are leaving transitional housing,” says Thulien. “We honestly don’t fully understand what happens after they leave transitional housing. Some of the limited evidence suggests that their outcomes are not that great. The most comprehensive longitudinal study to date was a study by Dr. Sean Kidd of the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction where he and his colleagues followed 51 formerly homeless young people from Toronto and Halifax for a year. Almost half of those young people were in transitional housing and the rest were living in independent housing situations either alone or with friends and family. He found that over time, for these young people, as a group, their sense of hope declined. That’s significant because it will inform future interventions. What kind of interventions do these young people need? Before, we just assumed that once they weren’t homeless, they would be fine. I think we are learning that is not the case.”

A CIHR Foundation grant will be funding Thulien’s third new project, which is led by Dr. Stephen Hwang of St Mike’s Hospital in Toronto. This one runs for seven years. Thulien is a program expert on the project, which has three main themes. She is co-leading the work on youth homelessness. “The research deals with interventions. What can we do to help people who are homeless or used to be homeless? How can we help them be more stably housed and socially included? My transitioning homeless youth study is embedded in this grant. This grant will help me bring some trainees on board and get some administrative support. I also hope to be able to leverage some of these funds to help with scaling up the transitioning youth homeless pilot project. I should also add that we do have a research team for the pilot project, and four of them are recent or current McMaster students.”

In addition to her research and teaching, Thulien is grateful that she is able to maintain her clinical work at the Covenant House Clinic in Toronto and at the Youth Wellness Centre in Hamilton. “It’s kind of unusual for someone to be a tenure track professor and maintain a clinical practice,” Thulien notes. “I think the reason people want me on their grants is because my research is ground in frontline work. I am interacting on a regular basis with community partners and with young people experiencing homelessness. I think that adds a richness and depth to my work.”

Projects:

1. Dej, E. (Principal Investigator); Co-Investigators: Kidd, S., Schwan, K., Thulien, N.S. Home Alone: Young Women’s Experiences of Social Exclusion for Those Exiting Homelessness. SSHRC: Insight Development Grant (2019 – 2022; $69,835).

2. Begun, S. (Principal Investigator); Co-Investigators: Fallon, B., Gaetz, S., Kidd, S., King, B., Nichols, N., Schwan, K., Thulien, N.S.; Collaborators: French, D., Noble, A., O’Connor, C. An Examination of Homeless Youths’ Longitudinal Aftercare Experiences. Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC): Insight Grant (2019 – 2023; $92,979). 

3. Hwang, S.W. (Program Leader); Program Experts: Aubry, T., Dunn, J., Fabreau, G., Gaetz, S., Heineck, K., Isaranuwtchai, W., Nisenbaum, R., Palepu, A., Raine, L., Richter, T., Stergiopoulos, V., Thulien, N.S., Watson, K. Interventions Research in Homelessness, Housing, and Health. Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR): Foundation Grant (2019 – 2027; $3,972,033).

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