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Mary Vaccaro, PhD Student, McMaster University School of Social Work

Five Questions with Mary Vaccaro

Meet McMaster School of Social Work PhD student, Mary Vaccaro, who researches and advocates for women experiencing long-term homelessness. In this profile for International Women's Day, she talks about her work, and the impact she hopes to have on her community.

Mar 08, 2021

 

Meet McMaster School of Social Work PhD student, Mary Vaccaro, who researches and advocates for women experiencing long-term homelessness. In this profile for International Women's Day, she talks about her work, and the impact she hopes to have on her community.

 

What attracted you to the field of social work?  

I took social work as an elective during the first year of my undergraduate degree, and that decision really changed the trajectory of my career.

Unlike the other courses I was taking, social work focused on analyzing structural and systemic barriers, and considered how public systems and social policies contribute to inequality. I learned more about community-based and participatory research and social policy advocacy. I was very interested in both avenues of social work.

 

What are you currently researching? 

My research focuses on women and gender-diverse people, who experience long lasting and complicated periods of homelessness.

The Co-Design Hub at McMaster University funds my doctoral research. This research project is called ‘Women Envisioning Supportive Housing’. The purpose of the project is to use an arts-based method of co-design, to investigate the ways women and gender-diverse people experiencing homelessness imagine ideal housing and support. I hope that the findings from this project will inform the development of gender-specific supportive housing programs.

Through my role as co-chair of the Research Working Group, with Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network, I have been also working on a pan-Canadian survey on women’s homelessness. It is the largest survey ever done on housing and homelessness for women and gender-diverse people in Canada. I am looking forward to sharing the results soon!

 

Your research focuses on women. Why is that so important to you? 

I worked in front-line in emergency shelters and drop-in programs for women experiencing homelessness since graduating with my Bachelor of Social Work degree in 2012. Through this work, I recognized that many women and gender-diverse people without children in their care, were experiencing homelessness for multiple years–and had very few options for accessing the kinds of housing and support they identified needing to resolve their homelessness. 

The ways we measure and understand homelessness in Canada rarely capture women and gender-diverse people who experience hidden or invisible forms of homelessness–and as a result, there are very few emergency shelter beds, and long-term housing and support options available within Hamilton, and across Canada.

 

What’s the impact you hope your research will have on the community? 

I hope that my research will bring the perspectives, ideas and preferences of women who experience homelessness into planning and developing new models of housing and support locally, and across Canada.

Hopefully, this research will lead to more housing options being developed (particularly low-barrier and supportive housing) for women and gender-diverse people, without children in their care, who experience homelessness in Hamilton.

 

What’s been the most memorable moment during your research? 

One of the most memorable moments of my research was having the opportunity to co-facilitate a workshop at a National Conference, with women who have experienced homelessness in Hamilton. The workshop engaged policy-makers, housing and homelessness researchers and advocates, and focused on how women’s lived experience could inform gender-specific models of housing.