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Canadian Research Explores Extreme Loneliness Challenge

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness has produced research examining the impact of loneliness on young women and gender-diverse people in the country who are combating homelessness. While loneliness is a challenge for people across generations and across social and economic circumstances, for those in challenging housing situations, loneliness can be a vicious cycle. 

Previous Canadian research has shown that Gen Z and young women are particularly likely to suffer from loneliness. As such, this new research interviewed 22 young women or gender-diverse people about their housing situation and loneliness. As well, the organisation canvassed related institutions and social workers. The people in the survey were previously homeless, but now mainly lived in fluctuating housing situations, often moving from one renting situation to another. 

Those in the survey reported that the poverty, discrimination and mental distress they incurred in their situations was made worse by feelings of loneliness. Even when people are not physically alone, loneliness can still persist. You might have roommates, but they can be a necessity, not a comfort. It doesn’t matter how many people you live with or interact with, if you do not have proper social connections with them, loneliness is just as much an issue. Some of those interviewed reported that at times, they felt they needed to isolate themselves for safety reasons, which of course only exacerbates loneliness. 

Poverty means these people have very limited choice about the places they can afford to and choose to live. Those in these kinds of situations, do not have the financial capacity or the time to cultivate social connections. Many can’t afford to even facilitate social connections via their phones as replacement for real contact. 

The loneliness project, in collaboration with those interviewed, came up with a number of steps that could be taken to help combat loneliness and improve social discovery for those in such circumstances. It suggests government and policy makers need to first simply acknowledge loneliness as an issue that greatly affects housing stability. And on top of that, address the lack of affordable housing. Spaces need to be created that are judgement-free and safe, for these people to meet and share problems. Finally, the support that those who transition from homelessness to housing needs to be vastly increased. Getting people off the street is not enough. 

The research is a stark reminder of how serious the problem of loneliness can get. Plus, how it is fed by and feeds into other problems. We all experience loneliness to one degree or another, and there are now thankfully apps and platforms that are out there that help combat this issue. It’s what we primarily cover here at social discovery insights. Clearly, sometimes that is not going to be enough – and for governments and countries to truly combat loneliness for all, deeper structural issues in our societies need to be addressed. 

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