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McMaster Community Research Platform and YWCA Hamilton Collaborate to Help People Experiencing Homelessness and Pregnancy

McMaster Community Research Platform and YWCA Hamilton convene a call-to-action forum to mobilize resources for people experiencing pregnancy and homelessness

Jul 07, 2021

McMaster’s Community Research Platform has partnered with the YWCA of Hamilton and the Community-University Policy Alliance (McMaster School of Social Work) to focus on the need for integrated, low-barrier reproductive health care and pregnancy services for people experiencing homelessness in Hamilton. The issue was exacerbated over the last year, as access to prenatal health care services, contraceptive options, abortions, and many other essential services became exponentially more difficult during the pandemic. 

In response to these issues, the McMaster Community Research Platform, which aims to bring together academic and community partners to address critical issues within our society, convened a group of researchers and students to work in partnership with a team from the YWCA Hamilton to organize a call-to-action forum in May.

Led by Medora Uppal, Director of Operations, YWCA Hamilton, with support from McMaster’s Dr. James Gillett and Leora Sas van der Linden, the forum brought together more than 60 community partners to mobilize resources and generate ideas for actionable solutions.

During the event, Uppal issued a call to action discussing the growing numbers of pregnant people accessing homelessness services, and the increase in critical incidents that have occurred over the last year for people experiencing pregnancy and homelessness in Hamilton.

Medora explained, “Pregnant women in society are first in line at hospitals, in bus lines, and are treated with a high level of gentle care. Why don’t we see that same level of care applied to pregnant women that are homeless?”

Mary Vaccaro, PhD candidate, School of Social Work, made a presentation that focused on the perspectives of people with lived experiences of pregnancy and homelessness in the community.

“Some key recommendations we heard were to prioritize access to emergency shelter and housing for people experiencing pregnancy, support people post-abortion and post-miscarriage, offer low barrier services, and develop a centralized one-stop-shop for all reproductive health care information and supports,” said Vaccaro.

Attendees also heard from Dr. Robin Lennox (MD), Lisa Nussey (RM), and Chelsea Futers (RM), about existing gaps and opportunities relating to clinical services for pregnant people experiencing homelessness.  

“Housing comes first! Other gaps to fill include drop-in prenatal care, mobile reproductive care, peer support for pregnant people with substance use disorders, and an emphasis on enhanced postpartum supports, regardless of postpartum status,” said Nussey.

Grounded in the feedback from individuals with lived experience of pregnancy and homelessness, forum attendees were asked to consider the available resources at their respective organizations and how to develop a systems-level response to the issues faced by pregnant people experiencing homelessness in Hamilton. The result was a concrete list of recommendations and a commitment to creating a working group tasked with bringing these recommendations into action.

May’s event was just one of several joint initiatives between the Community Research Platform and the YWCA Hamilton. By fostering collaborations between McMaster researchers and community partners, academics are better able to translate research into action and generate evidence-based solutions that truly respond to community needs.