A PATH to Safety: homelessness and pregnancy

Finding peer support can be very challenging for people experiencing stigma and marginalization. This is especially true for people experiencing challenges during pregnancy. There is so much cultural pressure for pregnancy to be a happy time that it can feel nearly impossible for people experiencing challenges like domestic abuse, instability related to migration, drug use, legal problems, social isolation or homelessness to find peer or even professional supports in the childbearing year. Organizations such as privately funded crisis pregnancy centres often try to fill the gaps, but may provide biased or inaccurate information, furthering the stigma.

Together with Toronto Public Health, the network of frontline providers known as Young People No Fixed Address wanted to find a way to highlight the data that had been collected related to homelessness during pregnancy in Toronto. We also wanted to document the bravery and perseverance of people who risk everything to try to keep themselves and their babies safe – this can often leave them in precarious situations in our city where housing, immigration, and policing systems can punish and even criminalize people who are fleeing violence. We knew that creating a resource that would direct them to publicly funded, evidence-based programs and services would help address the gaps for pregnant people experiencing homelessness.

In 2020, just as the pandemic was having a devastating impact on families dealing with homelessness in the perinatal period, the MATCH (Midwifery and Toronto Community Health) Program at South Riverdale Community Health Centre (SRCHC) was able to partner with researchers in the School of Nursing at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) who were studying homelessness and pregnancy. We combined quantitative data from Toronto Public Health with the qualitative data from the research conducted at TMU. Then SRCHC and TMU co-funded a partnership with the award-winning animation team at Electric Square to create a fictional composite hero myth that demonstrates the challenges, as well as the strength and bravery of pregnant people experiencing homelessness. The result is a short, animated, evidence-based film that will remain available online to serve as a peer to peer support. The goal is that people who google: “homeless, pregnant, Toronto” may discover through this film that they are not as alone as they thought, and that they deserve and can access high-quality, unbiased supports and services. This short film is an example of using art to transform scientific evidence into a knowledge translation tool that can have an emotional impact, both for people in positions of power (like policy makers) and for people with lived experience of homelessness in pregnancy.