A Photographic Exploration of Housing and Health
*Written by Surita Parashar – facilitator for “The Way I See It”
Housing instability is a growing problem in British Columbia, particularly in the city of Vancouver. Approximately 133,000 renter households in BC report having difficulty meeting their core housing needs. Of these households, 64,900 allot more than 50% of their income to housing. As of July 2010, 10,250 households were on the BC Housing wait list. Homelessness remains a critical issue, with Vancouver’s most recent homeless count at 2,650: a 22% increase since 2005, and a 137% increase since 2002.
There are little systematic data available on the socioeconomic needs of Persons Living With HIV/AIDS (PHA) in BC, therefore the impact of housing instability on the health outcomes of this population is not fully understood in this context. Findings from the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS-based Longitudinal Investigations into Supportive and Ancillary Health Services (LISA) study suggest that 32% of people accessing antiretroviral therapy in BC are unstably housed. Of those, 83% live in, or frequent, the city of Vancouver.
The determinants and impact of housing instability amongst PHA in Vancouver are situated within a unique economic and political context: the province of British Columbia has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in Canada as well as a growing housing crisis fuelled by rising housing costs, dismally inadequate income assistance, a low minimum wage and the highest poverty rate in the country. However, BC-based studies that have considered housing as an important determinant of health use definitions of housing stability developed in other settings—definitions which may not reflect the realities of PHA in Vancouver.
“The way I see it” is a Photovoice project that examines the impact of housing on health as seen through the eyes of people living with HIV and AIDS in Vancouver. Photovoice is a method used to help individuals, often marginalized by social-structural inequity, to reflect on their community’s strengths and needs, engage with policymakers and work towards social change. This community based initiative is led by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation and supported by a number of community partners, particularly McLaren Housing Society of British Columbia.
A number of community partners, including the Positive Women’s Network helped recruit nine participants – people living with HIV and passionate about housing research and advocacy. Participants were trained as Community Researchers who would use their personal experiences to describe how the physical and social environment impact people’s health and well being.
The team received photography training from professional photographer, Marlis Funk. Community Researchers were then given cameras which they used to take pictures of their homes and neighborhoods. After the photos were developed and reviewed the team engaged in group and one-on-one discussion about housing and health. They also brainstormed ways to disseminate the knowledge gained from the project to the wider community. The group decided to organize a photo exhibit at W2 media cafe to draw the interest of community members who may not be familiar with the realities of living with HIV, in addition to researchers, service providers and people “in the know.”
An overarching goal of this research initiative is to increase lay peoples’ understanding of both vulnerability produced by environments, and the resiliency that PHA communities develop to buffer themselves. In addition, the project findings will be used to lobby regional and provincial decision-makers in the health and housing sector to respond to the issues the team has identified and, importantly, to involve affected communities in generating solutions.
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Community Researchers – Dan, Val, Rob, Randy, Lynda, Lora, Jenny, Mel – collaborated with Surita Parashar (BC-Centre for Excellence student) and Rosa Jamal (Canada Without Poverty Board member) to expose the reality of inadequate housing for low-income persons with HIV/AIDS.