News / Edmonton

'It's the conditions around them': Edmonton's marginalized being left behind

Norquest College and Edmonton Public Library team up on study of social isolation among city's most vulnerable

Marlene Mulder was lead researcher on the Building a Better Life study.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Marlene Mulder was lead researcher on the Building a Better Life study.

Edmonton's most marginalized are often falling through the cracks despite their best efforts, according to a new study.

Norquest College and the Edmonton Public Library teamed up for the second annual Building a Better Life/Social Capital Study, which was released Wednesday.

Researchers interviewed more than 500 people who access services from social agencies – mainly those serving homeless, newcomer and Indigenous populations – to analyze how a lack of “social capital” affects loneliness and isolation.

“I would say we have people who are really survivors. But it’s the conditions around them that make their lives so hard,” said Marlene Mulder, the study’s principal researcher.

Mulder said people who successfully seek out support services often do very well until those services end.

One interviewee commented that they “hate the weekends” because the agency that helps them is only open Monday to Friday.

Others complete long-term programs to make positive changes, and are left to fall back into difficult situations.

Women who have been sex workers and struggled with addiction, for example, often go through programs to quit drugs, find housing, and in some cases regain custody of children who have been taken into care.

“So they get on this path to do all those things, they finish that program and life looks really good, and then often, after the program is done and it’s deemed that they’ve tackled their substance abuse issue, then the support drops off,” Mulder said.

“Finding employment is really difficult for people who have low education and training. If they have their children back, how do they then keep their housing without a good job?

"The fear of losing your children drives you back out on the street, being on the street drives you back into substance abuse, and then the cycle begins again.”

Substance use and chronic health conditions make it especially hard for some to improve their living situations.

Discrimination also plays a role by eroding self esteem.

More than half of those interviewed – including a vast majority of Indigenous Edmontonians who took part – reported being discriminated against, from shouting of obscene racial slurs to being denied housing.

“It was the Indigenous participants that suffered the worst discrimination,” Mulder said.

She said the city needs more permanent supportive housing with wraparound supports to help marginalized people find paths to long-term success.

Researchers did find some bright lights, however.

Mulder said most participants showed ingenuity and exceptional resiliency despite their challenges.

“Given the poverty, the lack of affordable housing, just the everyday struggles people have, they still have community and they create networks and they support each other and they volunteer and they vote, and they try to have this normalcy in their lives that I think is exceptional,” she said.

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Some of the study's key findings, based on more than 500 interviewees who access various social agencies in Edmonton:

84% trust community serving agencies

67% live under the low-income cutoff

56% experience discrimination

47% volunteer in their community

39% have chronic medical conditions

21% struggle with substance abuse


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